Archives For December 2009

Impossible is Nothing

Mike —  December 31, 2009 — Leave a comment

We’re too young to know certain things are impossible, so we will do them anyway.” (the William Pitt character in the movie Amazing Grace)

What a disservice we do to the world when we rob youth of their dreams and teach them what can’t be done. What if instead, we showed them “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” and helped them learn to fully love and follow His lead?

Too Easy…

Mike —  December 29, 2009 — 2 Comments

I still remember the first time a teacher really joined my parents in pushing me to want to do my best. Mostly I’d been coasting through most of my classes – satisfied with doing better than others (instead of doing my best). I wonder who is pushing kids today to do their best? Who is coaching them to raise the bar of their own expectations?

It seems like everything is rewarded these days, to the point where very little is actually expected. Attendance awards, certificates of completion… I think I was in the first wave of recipients of the proverbial “participation ribbon”. I was in about 4th Grade competing on the swim team. I did ok, but was definitely not culling a lot of blue ribbons from the pool! While my little brother won almost every backstroke race he entered, I mostly took home these ugly purple ribbons that boldly labeled me a “participant”. (I have a theory that connects the genesis of Barney the dinosaur to the ubiquitous recycling of hordes of these purple “awards for showing up”… just a thought.) Who were they kidding? I didn’t feel better because I got to take home such a “prize”, I felt like a chump who didn’t belong with the real swimmers.

I could churn my short little arms and skinny little legs as hard and fast as I wanted to, my ribbons were mostly going to have high numbers (or “participant”) stamped on them. Then I discovered the long races. At every swim meet, there seemed to be a break time, where everyone just kind of sat around and did nothing. Long periods with no starting sounds, no cheering… maybe just a Popsicle and a wet towel to use for a bleacher pillow. One day I noticed that while almost everybody was sitting around, there were about 5 kids still in the pool – just plowing their rows back and forth in the water. These guys were doing what most of the rest of us wouldn’t do… the longest races… the hardest races. I decided that was what I was going to do. If I couldn’t swim faster than they could, I’d swim farther that they would. Suddenly, my ribbon collection was tinted blue. I was winning races.

But even that wasn’t because I was a great swimmer… it was because I entered races that almost no one else wanted to do. They were too hard. There was little competition. It’s easy to get the bronze when there are only 3 racers! Sometimes, you win by attrition… everyone else quits because it’s too hard.

We need to be challenged to higher expectations – not just for young people, but for all of us. Just showing up is too easy. You can coast through life if you want to and stick to the status quo. That’s exactly what a lot of people and churches do. But what if we didn’t? What if we refuse to settle for the ordinary? What if we decided that the status quo is not good enough?
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No raindrops on roses here, or even whiskers on kittens… but since the year is winding down, here are a few of my favorite new and not so new things from 2009:

Experiences:
Lucid -WestWay hosted the 2009 rendition of the Spring Thing youth rally this year. The rain was incessant, and the attendance was low – but One Time Blind was awesome and God was simply amazing. It was a great weekend of worship and being challenged to deeper faith. Here’s a post with some after thoughts regarding the weekend.
Catalyst West Coast – Immediately following Lucid, I headed to the west coast for Catalyst with my good friends, Jimmy and Rodd. (No that’s not a euphemism for a couple travelling goodies packed away in my suitcase, it’s the two names of two guys that I drug to California in April.) Catalyst was a great experience from which I took away so much that I’ll spare you a rehash here.  But check out my posts from late April to see what we were gleaning from a great rented Mustang ride, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Guy Kawasaki (and the rest of an incredible speaker lineup), as well as In-n-Out, Jack in the Box, and Chick-fil-A induced euphoria.
The Coldwater Mission – This was the summer when I finally was able to pull together a group of students and adults to go on a mission trip to an unknown location with an unknown job to do.  We depended on God and got to see Him work in some exciting and wall-paper-scraping ways! Most of these posts from August revolve around Coldwater.

Books:
Sustainable Youth Ministry – A lot of youth ministry is not sustainable. It just can’t keep going the way it’s going. Youth ministers burn out, volunteers flame out, and students check out. This book will go a long way toward helping a church that wants to build a youth ministry with a larger view than the next big event. Any church looking for a youth minister needs to have the search team (or whoever is responsible for the selection) read and discuss this book early in the process.

PrimalWild Goose Chase – Goose Chase is a challenging look at the Holy Spirit as the guiding force of our lives. We don’t need to be in control as much as we need to be responsive. Primal digs into what is really at the essence of Christianity – and what is all too often deficient in our day to day living: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, & strength. I really appreciate how Batterson pulls together so many different fields of interest in illuminating Scripture.

An Unstoppable Force – The first book by Erwin McManus I came across several years ago, I still think it’s his best. I don’t re-read very many books, but this one is one of my annual favorites. The church can (and should) be so much more than what most people (even many of those on the inside) think it is. I gave away my copy this year, but will definitely be buying another in 2010.

Tribes – This book was a freebie from Catalyst this spring. Glad I got it! Lots of great stuff about how a group of people can come together with leadership. I’m still not completely comfortable with calling someone my “tribe” but there is a lot of wisdom to be found here.

Jim & Casper Go to Church – Henderson and Casper let us in on a great experiment: church guy and atheist visit churches together all across the country and share perspectives/observations with each other. Lots of eye-opening stuff.

They Like Jesus, But not the Church – Kimball shares the stories of a generation who has grown very skeptical of the church, but still have a pretty high opinion of Jesus (even if it’s based on an incomplete perception of him). Enlightening thoughts about some areas where we (the church) may not be reflecting Jesus as well as we think we are.

UnChristian – Completing the “take of the insider-blinders” trifecta, this book, based on solid research, shares what young people outside the church see when they look at the church. Perception is important, and younger generations are not perceiving the church in a very healthy light – we need to do better.

Crazy Love & Forgotten God – Are we really in love with Jesus? Does our faith make too much sense? Francis Chan opens his heart and shares a glimpse of what it looks like to really love Jesus in Crazy Love. Forgotten God focuses on the “third person” of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Why is it that we don’t seem to talk about Him near as much as the Father and the Son? Is He really just a “silent partner” in the Godhead? I don’t think so, and Chan does a great job leading the reader into a deeper walk with the Holy Spirit.

Music:
new worship music – Steve Fee led a number of the sessions of worship at Catalyst West Coast with the Hillsong United crew leading a couple times. The passion with which these guys approach their craft sparked something within me that’s been a little dormant for way too long. The church needs to continually create great art that is an expression of worship given to our Creator.

Websites/Tech:
NewSpring Community Church – After being so encouraged by their pastor in April, I began to dig into the website of this church in South Carolina. These guys are doing awesome stuff with technology and teamwork. Check out their services sometime (either live or archived).
Twitter – I’m usually way too wordy for only 140 characters, but decided to give this a shot earlier this year. It’s a fun and interesting way to share thoughts. I’ve especially loved getting a peak into the everyday workings of some leaders I greatly respect. You’ll find me as 6drews on twitter if you’re dying to see if I can really say anything with such a restricted word count! One thought that twitter has brought to mind is that if I can’t tweet a sermon (summarize it in 140 characters), the people I’m talking to probably don’t know what I’m talking about either…
Friends Starting Blogs
Several friends have started blogging this year – some often, some not quite so often. I’m excited to see what will develop as my WestWay friends share what God is doing through this forum. I’ve gained a great deal from blogging and am praying they will too. Check the “Blogs of Local Friends and Family” area on the left side of this page to see what they’re saying.  Feel free to castigate any of them who have not posted lately!

Family:
Mine is awesome! No additions this year, but Liz turned 3, Josiah is still hilarious, Dakota is the coolest 1st grader I know, and Emily is closer to the age I was when I got married than to the age she was when she started to walk! Their mom spent the year being incredible. She is definitely my favorite.

Do you ever just step back and look at the way things are going around you and wonder why they’re going that way?  I do.  And sometimes, like the end of every year, I just don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain these things about the holidays to me…

-“The Sweater” – What is it about Christmas that makes people think it’s appropriate to buy someone a shirt that looks like a pile of technicolor mohair vomit?

Fruitcake

Standing in line to buy stuff for people that don’t really want it, who are also standing in line to buy stuff for you that you don’t really want. What if we just spent that time doing something together for someone else who actually needs our help?

Parents enduring untold stress to “protect” their children from finding out that Santa’s not really a part of this whole thing we call reality. Santa’s a fun character. Let him be fun, but ask yourself why are you working so hard to maintain a lie?

“The Sweater Team Photo” – Sorry mom, we don’t really want to look like the Partridge family in our matching mohair for the latest Christmas photo op.

Adults fighting over toys in stores – and (the near tangent) parents desperately seeking “this year’s Elmo”. Seriously people, your child’s Christmas will not be ruined if they don’t get the poo-poo pet or PS720 or whatever else “the hot new thing” is supposed to be next year.

Why no one ever does a Christmas play re-enacting the Revelation 12 account of Jesus’ advent?  Really, go look it up. This whole Christmas thing isn’t just about a baby in a manger and family time and presents and bowl games, it’s about the winning salvo in a war much larger than we may imagine.

-Thinking that coercing someone into saying “Merry Christmas” is some kind of victory. We can’t expect the world to tell our story. That’s our job.

The baby in the manger came for a reason. He had a mission that he passed on to his followers, to be carried out until he comes again. Don’t misplace your part in that mission among the tinsel and figgy-pudding.

Primal Book Review

Mike —  December 18, 2009 — Leave a comment

A few months ago, I caught an invitation on Mark Batterson’s blog to review his upcoming release Primal as part of a blog tour for the book. I signed up with the publisher, then sort of forgot about it. Over the next several weeks, Batterson had giveaways on his blog of his book to various groups; campus pastors, worship pastors, lead pastors… I eagerly waited for the book to be offered to youth pastors, but to no avail. Then an e-mail came from the publisher and I remembered I did indeed have a free book on the way, anyway!

I’ve enjoyed Batterson’s blog and the other two books I’ve read from him, so I had high expectations for Primal. The subtitle of the book (A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity) really struck a chord with me. As a youth minister, I work with a lot of people who’s faith seems to have lost (or never really found) its soul… so many people acting out what they think they “should” be doing and not really fully living.

The book digs into the question, “What is the primal essence of Christianity?” and discovers that at the heart of our faith is the Great Commandment: to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. “We need to be great at the Great Commandment.”  Batterson dives into what it means to love God in 4 parts within the book (heart, soul, mind, strength). In each segment, he weaves Scripture with research and stories from a broad range of topics to explore loving God completely.

All of this, for Batterson, leads to a new Reformation of the church. A reformation not led by powerful personalities or creedal figures, but by “millions of reformers living compassionately, creatively, and courageously for the cause of Christ. It will be marked by broken hearts and sanctified imaginations. And the driving force will be the love of God. A love that is full of compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy.”

I looked back over the year and found that the first book I read in 2009 was Batterson’s Wild Goose Chase. It was a great place to start the year. Primal is a great place for you to start 2010. Rediscover your primal love for God.

Heard of Advent Conspiracy?

Mike —  December 13, 2009 — 1 Comment

Some great stuff over at Advent Conspiracy. If you haven’t heard of this, do the world a favor and spend a few minutes at their site. See what happens. Christmas CAN still change the world.

A Frozen Walk with an Affirming Father

Mike —  December 10, 2009 — 1 Comment
I need affirmation. Maybe I’m not internally motivated enough, maybe my confidence is not what it should be, but I need to hear how I’m doing from someone else’s perspective. I settle sometimes for other people’s perceptions, but what I really need is the affirmation of my Father. You do, too. There is a question in all of us that begs to be answered with God’s “Well done. Come enter into my rest.”
Last night after all the students had gone home, all the lights were shut off and the doors were locked, I headed home feeling as good as I’ve felt for a long time. The question we covered in our series last night dealt with the mystery of the Trinity – how can God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be three and be one? The simple truth is I don’t know how, but the question brought me to wonder again. If we stop wondering about God, we may begin to think we know all we need to know about Him – and that’s a dangerous place to be.
God knows us more intimately than we can fathom, and He wants us to know Him more deeply as well. He is not merely a far-off overlord watching from a distance – He became one of us! He is not just an amazing teacher or caring humanitarian that used to live in the Middle East – He is THE creative power living inside of us!
I went for a walk late last night after I got home. Just a short walk – it was well below zero (about 20 below Celsius for my Canadian friends). Being that cold, there weren’t too many dogs out barking, only a few vehicles passing by, and the more sane of our local species tucked away in their warm homes. It was incredibly still – a moment of rest. If anyone noticed me out there, they may have only seen some dope out wandering around in the cold, but I saw more. Fascinated by the God who made the cold, dry snow crunch beneath every step, who made every star I could see and every one I couldn’t, and who drew out the longest-burning meteorite I’ve ever seen… I saw God.
It was as if He spread out His canvas for me to see and said “Look… I’m still here.” And though I know there is much I can and should be doing better, it was a moment of affirmation. A reminder that I’m being obedient, and a nudge to keep being so. The designer of the Denver Art Museum, Daniel Libeskind said of the building “I hope the building has an openness that everyone can fill with their own imagination.” I was reminded last night, in a frozen moment of clarity, that my life needs to have an openness, too. An openness to the mysteries of God. I hope my life has an openness that God can fill with His imagination. I pray yours does, too…

“I think many of us doubt Scripture simply because we haven’t done it.” – Mark Batterson

I came across this quote yesterday in Batterson‘s new book, Primal, and it made me think about whether I’m “doing” the Bible very well and how the church is doing in living out our faith. Too often, I think we measure faith by attendance frequency and coloring inside the lines – But the Bible has a whole lot more to say than “Be good and go to church.”
My faith isn’t measured by how many verses I can find faster than the next guy or my perfect attendance on Sundays (especially since that’s pretty much a job requirement anyway). My faith is measured by the impact it has in the world around me. It’s measured by how well I’m doing what Scripture says.
Last week a lady measured my faith by the fact that she didn’t have to sleep outside in the cold… She called at about the single most inconvenient time in the week for me. It was Wednesday night about 5:30 or so – students coming at 7:00, music team coming in half an hour, lots of last minute things to get ready. But the phone rang, and I was the only one in the building, so I answered. For the next 25 minutes, I went through every option I could think of to steer this lady to someone else who could help her. “This place won’t let me stay there because I’m not abused – this place won’t let me stay there because I’m not bipolar – they won’t help because I’m not just passing through…” On and on it went. She had sought solutions and found lots of closed doors, sending her back out into all 10 degrees. The desperation on the other end of the line didn’t need me to go to church on Sunday – didn’t need me to stand up and recite Psalm 23 – She needed me to take seriously what Jesus said in Mt. 25. She needed me to DO what Jesus says, not just read it.
As we talked I kept thinking about all the other things I had to get done in the next hour… but then the voice of Jesus broke through the clutter in my head and asked me “What good is it going to do to wish her well and send her on her way?” Then his brother James was a little more blunt: “Don’t merely listen to the word… Do what it says.” How could I stand in front of a group of students and worship and teach them how to help a friend in need (which was ironically the topic that night) if I just hung up the phone and did nothing? I couldn’t. So I grabbed the first kid that showed up and we went on a little ride to find a total stranger and take her someplace warm and dry.
We grow in our understanding of Scripture only when we do what it says.
What are you doing today?

It’s All Him

Mike —  December 2, 2009 — 1 Comment

I often wonder if I’m tragically destined to beat my head against one wall after another. It just seems like I often find myself compelled to beat a drum that no one really wants to hear. It’s a frustrating way to live, but the alternative feels like disobedience or faithlessness or maybe even rejecting the God who made me & telling Him I know better than He does.

I found a great reminder reading Perry Noble’s post today – Why I Am Frustrated. He lists some conditions that lead to frustration, and the fourth one is “Not Realizing That Zechariah 4:6 is True!!!” He writes that,

“So many times I will work myself into a frenzy thinking that ministry results are up to me (which is SO dangerous because it either always leads to pride or depression!) God said it’s not up to me…but up to HIM!!! This means I am called to do my very best…and then know that HE is going to bring about HIS fruit in HIS time!!!”
The city of Jerusalem wasn’t rebuilt because a couple guys became great leaders and were able to rally the people to complete the project. It was rebuilt because the Spirit of God was moving to have it rebuilt. I desperately need to remember that the results of my ministry are not up to me.
I’ve always been wary of becoming prideful at the work God has done around me. I’m careful to remember that it’s Him who’s doing the real work on people’s hearts when I see things going well. I can’t really think of a time where I pridefully took credit for what God did (thankfully)… But I haven’t done as well at knowing that forgetting the fact that “it’s all Him” can lead me into depression when things aren’t going as well. It’s easy for me to become frustrated at the change that isn’t happening (or isn’t happening fast enough) and get into a funk that spirals downward, robbing me of the hope that anything will ever change at all.
God is in the business of transformation, and I LOVE to see that happening in people and churches and communities. I love to be a small part of God’s transforming work. I just need to remember that the results are up to Him.
When I start thinking too much about the lack of outcomes or the perceived slowness of transformation, I can get so dejected that I fail to do my part. “It’s not working anyway… why bother… someone else is going to just undo whatever good this great idea/sermon/song/event is going to do… it’s not worth the effort…” These lies sap the strength from our efforts to do our part. They keep us (or maybe it’s just me) focused on what WE are NOT accomplishing instead of what God CAN do.
May I see again what God can do…
May I simply do my part…
Even if that feels like beating my head against a wall.