A Quick Thanks

I want to thank those of you who had been praying for our elders and pastors last weekend.  We started out the weekend with a video from Dean Trune of Impact Ministries. It was a great reminder of our need to be in prayer. We need to consistently beg God for His direction for our lives and ministries.

We had some really good, healthy discussion about the way we get things done, and how we can improve on that. It will be exciting to see God work as we implement some ideas to help WestWay be everything God is calling us to be.

A Simple Request with Huge Implications

I don’t often ask for much on this blog – a little conversation, feedback, a free exchange of ideas… but today I’m going to ask. Because I need something. The ministry I lead needs something. The church in which I serve needs something.

Tomorrow and Saturday, our team of elders and pastors will be getting out of town for a little bit for a leadership retreat. To be totally honest, I don’t know exactly what’s on the agenda for the time we’ll be spending together, but I do know that this trip is coming at a pivotal time for us. And that’s where you come in…

I’m asking that on Friday night and Saturday, you’d be praying for these needs of our leadership team:
We need to hear from God and together be drawn deeper into His mission for WestWay.
We need to humbly accept what He calls us into and boldly move forward into whatever that may be.
We need to listen well, both to the Spirit and to each other.
We need to communicate clearly within the group and avoid being misled by assumptions.
We need to follow up when we return, diligently doing what we commit to and faithfully caring for the community in which we’ve been planted.

If you’re a part of WestWay, I hope you already pray for your leaders, but especially this weekend, please be praying for us. Thanks.

(If any of you who will be on the trip have anything specific you’d like people to be praying about, feel free to click on ‘comments’ under this post to detail your request.)

Audio – Believe a Better Story

This is a pretty low quality mp3 file, so if it’s indistinguishable, it may not be here long.  We’ll see how this goes.
EDIT: I can’t figure out how to get the embedded file to NOT automatically begin upon page load, so I’m replacing it with this link to the mp3 to avoid annoying everyone who visits my page for the next several months until this post is off the front page. Sorry for the extra click my coding ineptitude will cause you, but at least you won’t have to hear me stutter through the opening lines every time you come here to read a new post…

Message Delivered: “Believe a Better Story”

This isn’t a transcript, but this is the message from yesterday. I’ll try to post some audio if anyone would like it, but for those who can’t stand the sound of my voice… read this in whatever voice you’d prefer.
I was struck last week by the number of runners in the half-marathon who, most people would assume would not be running. There was one finisher who was 73 years old – and she finished about a half an hour before I did! Not that I’m the swiftest distance runner out there, but she’s 73! I think the biggest thing that keeps people from running a long distance is that they believe a story in which they can’t run a long distance. As Donald Miller suggests, we become the character in the story we believe about ourselves.

We believe a lot of bad stories. Unloved and unwanted… Too fat, too short… Not smart enough, not fast enough, not talented enough… Too old, too young… We need to believe a better story. I don’t mean some kind of self-help, believe and achieve type of thing: I mean that we need to believe God’s story and overcome every obstacle in the way of living His story.

I had a student who walked into our youth ministry one night and sat down in the back row, bringing in a ‘cloud’ that changed the atmosphere of the whole room. I had no idea who she was or why she’d come – she didn’t really seem connected with any of the other students, and every time I tried to get to talk with her she was out the door by the time I got to the back of the room. As it turned out, she was believing a story that started with an abusive father leaving the family. In her story, she was rejected, unloved, and worthless. One of my greatest joys in youth ministry was watching God reveal a better story to this girl – His girl. In God’s story, she found out, she is invaluable!

Some bad stories we sometimes believe:
“I don’t have what it takes.”
“No one cares, but if I sleep with him, he will.”
“I’m too old, I can’t relate to those young people anymore.”
“I’m retired – I already did my work”

If you find yourself buying into these stories, you need to believe a better story. Simon was a guy who was invited into a better story. Early in the gospel of Matthew, Simon was just a fisherman. Passed up by the Rabbis, Simon took on the family trade and spent his days throwing nets into the sea and smelling like fish… until the son of a carpenter invited him into a better story. Simon took Jesus’ invitation and lived a better story. He saw the miracles of Jesus, the healings, heard the teaching first-hand, and saw the love in Jesus’ eyes up close. He even walked on water! Peter lived a better story.

In Mt. 16, the story got even better. “Who do you say I am?” “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” In this moment, Jesus opens a new chapter in His story for Simon. He gave Simon a new name, and invited him into the story of His unstoppable church. The church that even the gates of hell would not overcome. We, the church today, need to believe a better story. Just like individuals, sometimes churches settle for less:

“We’re just a small family in a small town… can’t expect too much from that.”
“We have to keep youth ministry separate from adults and leave it to ‘the experts'”
“The Pastor’s in charge.”
“We’re big enough.”
“Other churches in town are our competition.”
“We’ve been hurt too badly to fully recover.”
“Our best days are in the past.”

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a church that believed a better story. All they wanted was to reach people for Christ and no obstacle was too big to tackle. They weren’t afraid to try things that other churches wouldn’t try for fear of abandoning convention. The result of this was that the people of the church were excited about sharing Jesus with other people. They loved to bring their friends and neighbors… even the kids loved being a part of what was going on in this church. It was an exciting time. But as more friends came, and more neighbors came, another obstacle came up – a big one. It was an obstacle that had stopped many churches in their tracks: the building was hindering ministry to the community.

The church had pulled together to show Jesus to the community, and it was working. They’d stretched resources and rearranged service schedules to accommodate more people, but the facilities were simply maxed out. So in 1994, the church removed that obstacle with the purchase and renovation of an old lumber yard and a relocation. They continued to grow, and in 2004 a new auditorium was built that would facilitate their continued efforts to reach the community.

That room is the room in which we meet every week. That church was the Church at Bryant, which was given the name WestWay when they relocated. That’s our story. But I’m afraid we’ve lost a little of the clarity to the story. Our vision can get a little fuzzy due to a creeping internal focus that leaves us dissatisfied when things don’t go our way. People have left the church for unshared reasons, and some of those reasons remain unshared because they don’t feel like anyone’s listening anyway. We need to believe a better story. Don’t believe that your leaders don’t care. Don’t believe that none of us are listening. Don’t believe that this church belongs to anyone other than Jesus Christ.

In the book of Acts, we find the early Christians believing a better story. The Spirit of God was on a mission to establish the church, and despite all odds and obstacles, the church thrived. Through the last several chapters of Acts, we see a man joining that same mission. Paul was not going to be stopped. He had bought into the story of Jesus with every fiber of his being and was going to deliver the message of God’s Kingdom in every place in which he could step foot! He was accosted, arrested, imprisoned… Paul was challenged and beaten and left for dead… Snake-bit, shipwrecked and shackled… and yet, he proclaimed God’s Kingdom still.

The final words of the book of Acts tell us that Paul was telling everyone of the Kingdom “with all boldness and without hindrance.” No obstacle would hinder him from living a better story.
That is the unstoppable mission in which we have a place.
That is the Kingdom we proclaim.
That is the story we need to believe.

God is not finished with His church. Though obstacles have arisen – and many more will…
Be a people who believe a better story: His story about His unstoppable church.

Believe a Better Story

As I’ve been preparing to speak Sunday at WestWay, I’m finding a problem. I want to move people to believe a better story (His story) about their lives, but I often find myself believing the wrong story, too. In the story that seems to be my default, I am a small, shrinking voice – easy to ignore, easy to brush by, easy to forget. Though I may have something important to say, in my story, no one listens. The moment I finish speaking, my words tumble through the sandy hills and deserts, unheard. In my story, I’m out on a limb alone, wondering if I should be there, but with no real mentors to have helped me decide upon which branch to climb.

What a stupid story!

When I believe that, I fail to believe His story as it’s been played out in my life’s history. I fail to believe He really loves me, not for whatever performance I may be turning in, but because I am His image bearing creation. When I choose my story over His, I forget that He has chosen me to be adopted into His family, and gifted me with something to share with that family. I short-change the men and women and friends and students and starry nights and books through which He’s called to me and led me.

In His story, I am loved beyond all rationality.  In His story, I have been gifted and equipped to strengthen the Body of Christ. In His story, He’s worked through me to draw lives into His Life and to help churches proceed with His mission. It’s really a much more compelling story! I’m so thankful to God for the roles He’s allowed me to live in His story, and grateful for the way He’s using this time in my life to remind me that He’s still writing!

Holy Mothers Day, Church!

For about the last year, I’ve been following NewSpring Church‘s services online. There is a lot that I like, and I’ve been pretty strongly challenged through their ministry. I started this week’s service at my desk this afternoon, hoping to work on a couple other things while I watched – but I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be getting a whole lot done. I think they’ve got a great answer to the question “What if we loved like Jesus loved @ church?” I know they’re a “big church” with lots of resources that we don’t have, but the Holy Spirit is the same in South Carolina as he is everywhere else. How will we answer that question in our communities?

(If you want to jump to the message, it begins about the 14th minute.)

Resources from Catalyst West

For the last several weeks, my desk has been piled with stuff I brought back from Catalyst West. Some of the stuff was purchased, some were free books that I seem to never be able to pass up (why would anyone want to?!), and some other promo materials from vendors that were set up at the conference. Just thought I’d pass on some links to some of the resources, connections, causes, and ministries I brought back:

Clover – Fashioners of great websites for growing ministries.
TOMS Shoes – A shoe company that gives a pair of shoes away to someone in need for every pair they sell!
Invisible Children – A movement working in northern Uganda to rebuild life for child soldiers, who’ve been abducted and forced into the longest running military conflict in Africa.
Orange – Proponents of a strategy that fuses children’s and youth ministry with the rest of the Body – ministry to families starts at home.
Orphan Sunday – Nov. 7, 2010 Echoing God’s heart for the fatherless.
One Day’s Wages – A giving movement intent on alleviating extreme poverty by donating a day’s wage. These guys have done a great job leveraging social media to work on their mission.
Gift Card Giver – Distributing unused and leftover gift cards to people in need.
ISS – Stewardship solutions to resource God’s vision for the local church.
The Last Letter – Committed to taking up the cross among the poor and lost – a passionate call to action for all of us.
Bethany Christian Services – Orphan care, adoption, and counseling through unplanned pregnancies.
X3Watch – Accountability Software/Tools for fighting internet porn.

Many of these deserve a lot more attention than one post could give all of them, so check the links and see what you find. Then come back and comment and let me know which ones are most exciting for you.

Humility of a Half-Marathoner

The 13.1 mile journey started last fall.  Some friends were talking about running in the Colorado Marathon right about the same time I was getting back into running.  (After the Lincoln Marathon several years ago, my running shoes got relegated to lawn mowing duty.) I got to looking at the details of the race, and everything seemed to be aligned for me to join my friends in their high altitude run.  Let me translate that: I looked at the course map and saw a marathon that is ALL downhill!

My friends were planning to run the half-marathon. I’m sort of an ‘all or nothing’ guy (at least when I vainly think I can handle “all”) so I wasn’t all that excited about the idea of running HALF of something. Today, on the day after that HALF something, I am very grateful to Jon, Michele, Scott, & Jennifer for reminding me of the difficulties of training for the full in the wind of a West NE winter. I can honestly say, I wouldn’t have made it 26.2. Lesson in humility #1: Listen to your friends!

I’ve never been a very scheduled runner. I squeeze in what I can, when I can. Marking days with prompts like “tempo run,” “speed work,” and “long one” makes me feel like I’m running out of obligation instead of because I want to, so I generally just start running. If I don’t have much time, I run fast – if I feel good and have some open time that day, I keep running. The problem with this training approach (or lack of one) is that it’s more than a little haphazard toward actually accomplishing what a training regimen is supposed to accomplish: increase the capacity to run long distances efficiently. Going in to yesterday’s run, my “longest” long run in the last 5 years was 7 miles. It’s probably not a coincidence that my body started breaking down with about 6 miles to go! Do the math. Lesson in humility #2: Don’t expect to perform like you’ve trained if you didn’t.

The day before the run, my heart was not in it. I didn’t want to leave, had a headache, just not in the mood… I don’t know. But I had committed (and paid) to run, so I gathered my gear and headed to Ft. Collins. The room I’d reserved had somehow turned into a smoking room, but nothing else was available. I opened the windows and left the fans running, so it wasn’t too bad (but did little to improve my outlook). I puttered around town a little bit, met up with Jon and Michele to retrieve my race packet, then headed back to the hotel to get some sleep (ha!). As I began to go through the packet with the reminders and race day details (not to mention the race tech shirt) the “clouds” began to lift, and I started to get a little more excited about what the morning would bring (aside from a 4:00 wake up call). The morning came quickly, we all met up downtown and rode the bus up into the Cache la Poudre canyon, where we’d start – after standing around in the cold for about an hour. It was a beautiful morning in the canyon (we Scottsbluff runners were particularly impressed by the absence of insane amounts of wind!) and, though it was cold, it warmed up quickly as soon as the mass of humanity began the run. The course was great – “standing in the canyon, painted hills around, the wind against my skin.” Running through awe inspiring scenes, I couldn’t help but think about how awesome our Creator really is. And aside from a few hundred meters, it really was downhill all the way! Lesson in humility #3: Stop feeling sorry for yourself and wait for it – the fog will lift!

Despite my lack of adequate training (or nutrition, but that’s a whole other issue), and the consequent knee pain for the last 5 miles or so, I finished in 2:18:59 still in sight of Jon, with whom I gladly ran most of the race (881st out of 1446 finishers). Maybe next year, we can work on a finish in the top half like Michele!

The Messiah you are looking for is Jesus.

In Acts 18, both Paul and Apollos are said to be working to convince Jewish congregations that “Jesus was the Christ.” Now, I’ve had enough Sunday School lessons and Life of Christ lectures in Bible college to know that “the Christ” is a pretty significant title, and it’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term Messiah. And so, as I grew up reading this verse in the NIV (as many of my generation of church goers have), I always pictured these two guys reasoning and explaining to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting for.

This morning, as I was reading in the New Living Translation, the phrase jumped out at me both times I came across it in a fresh way: “The Messiah you are looking for is Jesus.” For whatever reason, having it phrased this way made my mind jump a couple thousand years. People are still looking for a Messiah and they have lots of choices fighting for their attention. Most are not looking for the Jewish Messiah described in the Old Testament (even many Jews have given up that wait) – but they are looking for someone or something to deliver them from a life void of meaning and substance. People are trying just about everything possible to escape the aging and death that each of us experiences. We all want our lives to mean something.

But your job will not be a source of significance for you beyond a few decades.
The excessive drinking and drugs that offer an escape only last for a moment.
The accolades and achievements we so diligently pursue will not satisfy forever.
Even the humanitarian service we give to others, as good and right as it is, does little to permanently convince the soul that it is good and right.

None of these offer the true rescue we’re seeking. Because “the Messiah you are looking for is Jesus.
The young generation today is looking for meaning in so many other things. They are looking to be saved by sex and good grades and football letters… drama and debate and Halo… drinking and cars and hip-hop… but they’re recognizing the emptiness of these pursuits. And so, they keep looking – they keep trying the next thing. The Messiah they are looking for is Jesus. It really is as simple as that.

Help them see Him.