One Meal One Day

A few weeks ago, I showed our students a quick video introducing One Meal One Day. It’s a program put together by Compassion to encourage students to skip 1 meal and donate the money they would have spent on it to feed hungry children. I showed the video to sort of gauge interest and see if it was something my students wanted to pursue. The response was pretty positive, so we’re going to do it, but sometimes you just can’t wait for something, right?

I just heard this morning that one of our students has already raised about $500! After seeing the video, he did his own checking online and took the information he found to a teacher at school. From there, he went to the principal and finally to the school board to pitch the idea. This little K-8 school has primed the pump, and I can’t wait to see what God will do throughout our other schools!

This is what happens when you let kids try! (Or when you plant seeds and don’t get in the way…)

58 – The Film & A Call to Act

Last night, I introduced our students to 58. It’s a “global initiative to end extreme poverty by living out Isaiah 58.” Some of the scenes are pretty difficult to watch, so I was a little hesitant to show the film. I decided to go ahead with it, though, because I really do believe that today’s young generation can make a difference with this huge issue. Heads have been buried in sand long enough.

In Isaiah 58, God is critical of the way His people got all the externals of religion right while missing the whole point. They acted pious, as if they would never abandon God, pretending to be near Him, all the while ignoring God’s heart for humanity. To turn a blind eye to the extreme poverty in the world today is to repeat the arrogant folly of ancient Israel.

I’ve challenged my students after watching the first part of the film last night to read Isaiah 58 each day this week and ask God to reveal His hopes for them in relation to that passage. What does He want our response to be? Watch this trailer and join us in digging into Isaiah 58 this week. Parents who are local are welcome to join us for the conclusion of the video next Wed. night as well.

58: THE FILM Trailer from LIVE58NOW on Vimeo.

Our Family Identity

A couple articles caught my attention yesterday that I keep thinking about.

First, this one from India: almost 300 girls in a particular district have had their names legally changed, complete with a renaming ceremony last weekend. You may think that out of the millions who live in India this is no big deal, but these are 285 girls who were previously named “Unwanted” who are taking new names. In our culture, names don’t always carry the meaning they do in others, but can you imagine growing up with a name like that? Every assignment turned in, every application or form filled out, & every check you write reminding you that you’re not wanted.

The other article, out of eastern Russia is the story of two 12 year old girls who have just found out they were switched at birth. After 12 years within a few miles of each other, they’ve discovered they are not biologically connected to the people they’ve been living with all their lives. They are getting to know their/each other’s families and both girls are staying in the homes/families they’ve always known, showing there is more to family than biology.

It reminds me of the prophet Hosea, who was instructed, as a life size object lesson for Israel & Judah, to name two of his children “Not Loved” and “Not My People”. But God promised a day when they would be given new names, they would be called “The One I Love” and “My People”. His people had rejected Him, but He promised to once again restore them and remind them of His love.

In Hosea 8, the very altars they’d built to make sacrifices to atone for their sins had become just another place to further their sin. Verse 13 states that the people “love their rituals of sacrifice, but to me their sacrifices are all meaningless.” It wasn’t their ritual that made them part of God’s people. In fact, their ritual meant nothing because they had “forgotten their Maker.” How often are we in danger of doing the same thing? How often do we show up for Sunday services, or youth group, or small group, or Easter or Christmas services as a matter of ritual, but ultimately forget our Maker? Do we really think our traditional observances make a difference to God? How often do we plan a message or lesson or service just because it’s that time of the week and we have to have something to say or do when we stand up on the stage again?

If we forget our Maker in deference to personal preferences or traditions or weekly schedules, how much different can we expect our fate to be from that of the ancient Jews? Although, their consistent rebellion would leave its mark on their relationship with God, it could not kill the Father’s unquenchable hope. “For someday the people will follow the Lord. I will roar like a lion, and my people will return…And I will bring them home again.” (Hosea 11:10,11) He knew He would one day call His people together to bring them home again – people from every tribe and nation who’d been adopted into His family.

Church, we’ve been given a place in the King’s family to which we don’t naturally belong. May we never take for granted the new identity He’s giving us as His children. And may we live every moment seeking to know Him and make Him known.

“I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

6 Adults Every Youth Ministry Needs

Youth ministry is not healthy when it’s a one man show. Every youth ministry takes a team of people to function well and to build healthy disciples. Also, I need to think about something a little light-hearted today so I’m giving you 6 Adults Every Youth Ministry Needs:

1. The Mom – She’s perturbed about the stain you just left on the church carpet, but you know she loves you anyway, and she’ll probably start bringing treats again in a couple weeks. She can’t help herself. It’s amazing how aware she is when it seems like she’s distracted with something else, and a split second of raised eyebrow eye contact from her will calm even the most savage of sophomores.

2. The Janitor – That stain on the carpet? Oh, he’ll get it out alright, but you’re now on his list. He will spend the next 17 months showing you every brand of blemish remover known to man, following you around with 4 different types of cleaning rags (all of which look suspiciously like cloth diapers from 1987), and explaining which combination is best for each and every surface in the church building. And before you even ask, “No, you can’t just spray paint over that!”

3. The Magnet – This is the adult that walks into the room and immediately is swarmed with a hive of students, eager for a shred of attention. His ideas are always right in their eyes and his stamp of approval will immediately boost participation by 37%. If you can manage a couple of these, you’re going to need a bigger youth room, but be careful, Magnets can do some really weird stuff to each other if they’re not properly aligned.

4. The Juggler – She can tell you where your youth ministry schedule will put you at any given moment over the next four and a half months. Balancing student activities with carpool duties is more natural to her than stink to a muskrat (Ha! You thought I was going to say skunk, didn’t you?) and she’ll know every detail about every upcoming trip on the docket. The Juggler is often an indispensable ally and translator in contacts with the outside world (i.e. real people who don’t speak youth ministry).

5. The Driver – The Driver knows how to get there from here. He knows where the potholes are and the best routes to avoid them and he’ll tell you both enthusiastically. Also, he can tell you the location of every Chic-fil-A and Krispy Kreme on the continent! The Driver is the epitome of the no-nonsense kind of guy in every other situation, but he’s willing to overlook the nonsense of youth ministry in order to get some kids where they need to go. Your students have no idea how awesome this guy really is until The Magnet draws him in to some crazy scheme where he becomes their hero.

6. The Cheerleader – Every student needs to hear that they’ve done well and the Cheerleader will deliver that message with fervor! She’s constantly scouting facebook posts like an eagle soaring high above the prairie dog town – except instead of swooping down with crushing talons for a quick, furry snack, she’s always the first to comment with an encouraging word and just the right emoticon!-) (Pathetic attempt, I know, but give me a break, I’m not the Cheerleader!) I guess that’s not really like the eagle at all, but you get the point. If not, ask the Magnet – He’s married to the Cheerleader & he’ll convince you I know what I’m talking about.

So, there you have my authoritative, qualitative summary of necessary youth leaders. Which one are you? I’m sure you can think of other adults that youth ministries need. Share them in the comments section, because it really does take a village, not just the village idiot!

Occupy Reality

Anyone else a little less than clear about just what the whole Occupy Wall Street thing is all about? The message seems to be “Big corporations, bad; individual, good.” but I’m sure that doesn’t exactly capture the whole heart of the protest. I checked out the Occupy website and found some interesting thoughts, and I’ve watched some of their livestream footage to see if I could get a better handle on just where OWS’ focus is. Incidentally, it wasn’t live while I was watching due to weather problems, so it was a montage of produced footage and brief clips, which would presumably be filtered so as to present ‘the message’ as clearly as possible. I still can’t quite get the pulse of what the point of the protestors is, but some of the highlights are here:

1. Don’t tell us what to do – we just want to be free.
2. Let’s get together and be upset… about anything.
3. “Fight the power.” Whatever that power may be…
4. 1% of Americans are too rich and couldn’t have possibly got that way legitimately.
5. 99% of Americans are too poor because of the greed induced power manipulation of the 1%.
6. “We demand a democracy that has zero tolerance for corruption.”
7. People before profits.

Among some recycled socialist mantras there are some really good things to say, but I could see the lack of a well articulated vision for what they want causing the degeneration of these peaceful protests into something much worse. Maybe I’m wrong, but the overriding feeling I get from what I’ve seen and read is “We’re mad.” If there’s no other motivation for being together, sleeping on concrete and under tarps is going to get old quickly.

While my more liberal friends will celebrate the stand for freedom they see in OWS, and my conservative ones will decry all the pot & pooping on the police car, I wonder if we’ll all miss something deeper. I wonder if any of us will listen well enough to hear the root of dissatisfaction. What’s really going on here?

Is there corruption in the highest echelons of corporations and government? Sure, just as there is corruption in the hearts and minds of people of every income level – and it needs to be dealt with. Is the gap widening between those who have a lot and those who have a little? Probably, in terms of how much they have, but the problem isn’t that some people make too much. The problem is most of us aren’t very generous – we’re looking out for ourselves first. Whether we live in luxury or near poverty isn’t the issue as much as our attitude toward what we have. When “what’s mine is mine” and you can just go get your own, it doesn’t matter whether the system is capitalist, socialist, or anything else. The solution is not a political one.

Church, the unrest in the world today is an open door for us to exhibit something better. What if the world could see a ‘peculiar people’ who love unconditionally, share whatever they have that’s needed, and genuinely look out for their neighbors’ best interests? What are we doing to show people that, while they may not feel like they matter to whatever corporation they vilify, they do matter to God and they do matter to us?

I don’t make a lot as a youth pastor. I’m definitely not in the top 1% of America’s wage earners. But here’s a reality check for me (and you): check out this Global Rich List. My family, and probably yours, is a lot closer to the top of the scale than the bottom. What are we doing with what we have earned to benefit someone else?

Making Our Own Heaven

I had a strange dream last night that keeps flickering across my synapses. I don’t make a big deal out of dreams I have when I’m sleeping, but this one just brings up some questions…

I was working at a church and was trying to explain heaven to my students. They discovered that heaven existed in a closet at the church building. (Umm… not like that guys.) We weren’t able to see into the closet, we just knew that heaven was in there. They were all trying to figure out how to get in, but no one could get the door open. As I was explaining the Way in, one student found an air vent and crawled through to sneak in.  (Just for the record for those of you who will wonder, it was… nah, you’ll just have to guess!)

But you can’t cheat your way into heaven. You can’t just sneak your way in. As he popped through the air vent, we were all suddenly in the same room and the students began “rearranging heaven” to be more what they wanted. I got really angry – my students don’t get to see angry Mike very often, but they pretty much didn’t notice anyway, which made me more angry. They just kept laying out this fluffy white carpet and messing around. It turns out, heaven wasn’t in there at all, so they just made their own.

I wonder how often we settle for what we can do instead of waiting for God to do what only He can do? How often do we just do what we want because ‘the way is narrow’ and His Way just seems too abstract or difficult? When Jesus talked about being “the way, the truth, and the life…” in John 14:6, what do we really think He meant?
Funny little side note: When I got to the office this morning I started reading the next passage after where I left off yesterday. It started with John 10, where Jesus talks about anyone who sneaks over the wall to get into the sheepfold is just a thief and a robber.

Always With You?

When you start talking about poverty, a lot of Christians immediately think of the words of Jesus (from Matthew 26), “You will always have the poor among you…” There seems to be a sense of hopelessness to be able to do much about it. Kind of like we’re all just thinking, “Some people have a lot, some people don’t have much at all… that’s just the way it goes.” But is that the way it should go? Is that His “will on earth as it is in heaven?” Was Jesus telling His disciples to waste their resources on extravagant gifts for him (like the alabaster jar of expensive perfume that “could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”) and not worry about the poor, because, “Hey, they’re still going to be there tomorrow, right…”?

Who are we to argue with the very words of Jesus? But was He really saying what we seem to think He was saying? Have we maybe misunderstood because we don’t hear those words in their context? Or, even worse, are we guilty of twisting Jesus’ words to justify the pleasures to which we think we are entitled? Is there some latent greed within us driving us to hoard all we can get a hold of and let everyone else fend for themselves?

“You will always have the poor among you…” Jesus was scolding His indignant disciples who were mad about a woman’s “waste” and seeming lack of concern for the poor. But Jesus next words may surprise you: “but you will not always have me.” Jesus saw her act as an anointing in preparation for His burial. So, even though any money gained from the sale of the perfume could have gone to the poor, this woman had chosen something more important. What are we doing with our resources that is more important than ending extreme poverty?

Right now, I can’t help but think of the upcoming Christmas season. I remember coming across a statement at Advent Conspiracy’s site a couple years ago about how Americans spend about $450 Billion each year at Christmas to “celebrate the birth of Jesus”. Holy holly, that’s a lot of tinsel and presents… but at least some of it could have been a lot of food for the hungry or clean water for the thirsty. One of those two possibilities is pretty important to the man whose birth we celebrate, but if you want to see some “indignant disciples” today, just suggest to your church friends and family that you want them to donate whatever they would have spent on a gift for you instead of buying you that gift.

I don’t think it has to be one or the other (live comfortably or help those in need), but I can no longer pretend these are Jesus’ only words about how I should think of the poor. What about what He had to say about how those gathered in Matthew 25 had treated “the least of these”? What about all the talk of the minor prophets about justice and mercy for the widow and the orphan? The way we think and what we do about extreme poverty does matter to God. He loves those people, just as He loves us.

“But wait, Mike… what they really need is Jesus. We need to tell them about Jesus.” While I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, they also need food and shelter and water. Both needs are significant, and the church is equipped to address both sides of this issue. Watch this video and let me know what you think.

6 Things You Should Think About (But Not Too Much)

1. Tonight’s football game here in Scottsbluff is homecoming… and the cross-town rivalry game with Gering… and the first game of this season against a district opponent… Just another game? Yeah, right. Big deal for Monument, NE tonight!

2. The homecoming dance is almost as bad an idea as prom, but not quite. There – I said it.

3. You actually CAN teach an old dog new tricks, especially when his cup of tea is all lukewarm and stale. 

4. This post is the six hundred & sixty-sixth one here.

5. I secretly laughed a little bit at my friends who were whining about facebook’s changes a few weeks ago… the real changes are yet to come. You’re probably going to hate it. You might want to be ready to return to myspace or something… and Jr. High.

6. Monument, NE would be a great name for two towns and a townish village that would do well to tear down some fences.

Needing Feedback? I Confess…

Confession: I am a feedback junkie.

Every time I lead worship or speak or teach a class or write something, I am immediately asking, “How was it? What did you think? Did that make sense?” or something similar. I eagerly wait for editorial responses to articles submitted, and I watch for follow up comments to those that get posted (either to bask in or maybe to argue with). It would be tempting to seek out people that I know will assuage my insecurities and tell me how great I am, but I know that wouldn’t do any good, so, among others, I always ask my wife. I can trust her to tell me the truth even if the truth isn’t what my ego wants to admit. Then I can fix what needs fixed and be satisfied with what was done well.


In John 5, a couple verses are really standing out to me right now that show Jesus taking a very different approach: “Your approval or disapproval means nothing to me…” (v. 41) Ouch! The Jewish leaders were ticked off with Jesus and trying to find a way to permanently shut him up. Essentially, He told them He didn’t really care if they liked what He did or not because He was only doing what His Father wanted done, and “because I know you don’t have God’s love within you.” (v. 42) BIG Ouch!

Jesus wasn’t taking exit polls and checking His numbers all the time. He couldn’t have told you what search term on Google or Bing led the most people to His latest post. He had no idea what His Klout score was and couldn’t have cared less.

And all of that confidence rested in His knowledge of His Father. He knew who He was and what He’d been sent for. “I do nothing without consulting my Father.” (v. 30)

How are we doing consulting the Father? Is our ministry functioning the way it does because “that’s what people want/need,” or because “that’s what God told us to do,” or maybe because “that’s what works,” or “that’s just the way we do things around here”? There is a right answer here, I think. If we want our ministries to look like that of Jesus… If we want the character of Christ to show through our own actions, we need to be consistently consulting our Father.

Does that make any sense?

Praying With Strangers on the Phone

I just got off the phone with a representative from a well known youth event/evangelism/promotions organization. I have to disclose that I’m predisposed to simply flush when the hype seems to be getting too high, and I get that vibe a lot with this particular organization. I’m also, as a full fledged member of the human species with a fully developed frontal cortex, predisposed to say no to sales calls. Consequently, I was probably looking for the exit sign very early in this conversation. The easy out presented itself when I learned that the end of his spiel concludes with an invitation to bring my students to an event whose date conflicts with another event to which we’re already committed.

At the end of the phone call, he asked, “Is there anything I could pray for you about?” I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why, but this felt really strange. Does this seem awkward to anyone else? Am I an unspiritual jerk because I didn’t really want to tell him anything to pray? Anybody else experienced a ‘sales’ type call that ended in prayer when you actually did want to share requests and pray with a stranger on the phone?