Archives For March 2013

Letting Go of Leadership

Mike —  March 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

In 2 Samuel 15, David is on his way out of Jerusalem. Not taking a little trip, not going out to battle… he’s running from his own son, who has decided to take over the throne. A band of loyal followers are leaving with him, hoping to get out of the city before Absalom gets back – in order to spare their lives and to spare the great city from the ruin of battle.

The Ark of the Covenant has been brought, but David chose to send it back. The Ark was the symbol of God’s presence with His chosen people (and all the power and authority that entailed for the leader of those people). Instead of taking this with him, he wanted to make sure it was with the people in what he saw as its rightful place. Listen to what he said:

If the Lord sees fit, He will bring me back to see the Ark and the Tabernacle again. But if He is through with me, then let him do what seems best to Him.

If I’m no longer pleasing God as His chosen King, I’ll get out of the way and let Him do what He wants.

David seemed to live with this mentality that God would do what God promised He would do, and that he, David, should be sure to be available for God to work through, but never in the way of what God was doing. As a result, He was willing to lay down the literal crown and kingship that God had given him if he thought God was taking it away. Rather than stay and fight, which would only end in his or his son’s death in the best case, or worse, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the death of many of the very people he’d been chosen to lead; David chose to leave his throne. He let go of the leadership God had entrusted to him thinking God may be doing something different.

Do we have the faith to do the same? Do we have the confidence in God that leads us to step aside if He is moving another direction? Do we trust that the people we serve in ministry are His & He’ll provide even if we leave our “thrones” in the hands of others?

Leadership really is temporary – and when I’m not willing to abdicate my “throne” if needed, I have to ask… Who am I really serving?

In our elementary school parent teacher conferences yesterday, I noticed a category on the report cards that I hadn’t really noted before. Part of the rubric, part of what is ingrained in our culture is “awareness of the safety of self and others”. Incidentally, I wouldn’t expect high marks in this category for Kota who climbed on the roof at 5, and Lizzie who started a grass fire (and put it out by her self) at the same age – caution is not their natural strength! But I noticed this category and it made me wonder… Have we put too high a premium on safety? This is not a school issue, it’s all over our culture. Have we mitigated so much of life’s risk out of the picture that there’s no longer any room for faith?

My dad recently heard Vince Antonucci speak at a conference and picked me up a copy of his new book, Renegade. [Just for the record, it’s a great book and you should read it!] The book makes the case that “your faith isn’t meant to be safe” in a very compelling (and humorous) way. Antonucci shares stories from his experience starting new churches geared for people that don’t like the church. Stories of dangerous faith. Stories of a dangerous God. It’s a dangerous book for a father to give a son. A lot of dads wouldn’t give their sons a book like this, for fear that they may actually read it and live like the book suggests they should. It’s a risky life we’ve been called to.

The sad thing, I think, is that the safe, sanitized version of faith that seems to be the norm isn’t really faith at all. And “without faith, it is impossible to please God.”

Do we really get that verse? Do we really understand what it’s saying. Go ahead and take a minute to read Hebrews 11. It’s a cliff notes version of the life stories of a bunch of people who did please God by living faithfully. But when I say faithfully, I don’t mean they just followed all the right rules all the time and had perfect attendance to the Sabbath services and didn’t drink or cuss or smoke… They pleased God by doing what He told them to do, even at great personal risk and with no guarantee of their own safety. Would your life story fit in that chapter?

Are we missing the boat here, church? We train our kids to work hard in school so they can get a good job and make a good living. Where is God in that? Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with making a good living, if that’s what God wants. But if making a good living comes at the expense of making a difference by living the life God calls us to, then we can’t call that a life of faith. Why are we so afraid that God won’t provide if we, or our kids, decide to give our lives to some kind of vocation that’s helpful to a lot of people, but not very lucrative?

I may be entering my pre-graduation season funk a little early this year, so you can write this all off as Mike’s crazy depression talk if you want, but we need to stop teaching our kids to sell their souls to a life of ease and plenty. We need to stop telling ourselves that our safety and security comes from a comfortable adjusted gross income. We need to stop working our way safely through life day by day and start spending our days so close to God that, as our heart beats with His, we’ll have the courage to live days that He can use to transform the lives around us.

If that means taking a lower paying job so you can invest more of yourself in your own family and in others to the glory of God ~ don’t be afraid.

If that means giving up a great scholarship at a state school in order to follow God’s lead to a more expensive Bible College ~ don’t be afraid.

If that means giving a year before college to serve Christ in the inner city or with an overseas mission ~ don’t be afraid.

If that means a complete career change after 15 or 20 years climbing the ladder you’re on ~ don’t be afraid.

As a youth minister, sometimes I think about stuff like this and marvel that anyone lets me near their kids. But if we’re going to please God with the way we live and the way we raise the kids He’s entrusted to us… we can’t let fear win. Is your life pleasing God?

Not without faith it isn’t.

Quickest way to save money... don't spend it.

The time has come to replace the 4Runner. I was a little shocked to realize today that I’ve had the 4Runner for 6 years. I bought it with a lot of miles on it and wasn’t sure how long it would last, and while there is an ever growing list of things that could use a repair, it just keeps going. It was useful for me in getting my race car to the track, and it was really fun in the snow and ice, but as a second car for our family, it’s no longer the best option.

So I started looking for a smaller car a while back, scouring craigslist and facebook auto groups and classified ads, etc. Last Sunday, my friend Nick and I drove to Cheyenne to buy a little Audi A4. It’s about 15 years past its prime and has a lot of miles, too, but I hope it’ll work out as well as the Toyota has for us. As I was driving it home, I got to thinking about my car history a little bit. A couple mini vans, the A4 & the 4Runner, a little Dodge Avenger that was a lot of fun… And I started calculating the money we’ve saved by driving old cars. In comparison to buying what I wanted, we’ve saved over $45,000 in just the last 6 years!

The commercials tell me I need a better car.

The bank tells me I can afford a better car.

When I drive by the car lot, or worse yet when I stand in a showroom, my pride tells me I deserve a better car.

When I look at a Wed. night parking lot full of my students’ cars, and my car is about the crappiest one there, my sense of entitlement tells me I should have a better car.

But I don’t.

This goes way beyond cars, but I wonder how much money we actually waste by buying what we want, when we want it? Our desire for instant gratification will kill the economics of our families if we don’t kill it first. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not pointing out myself as the model of self-denial and contentment. The truth is, if I wasn’t so set on not having car payments, I’d be driving newer vehicles. If I didn’t have a wife who’s not impressed with my driving prowess but loves me unconditionally for a whole lot of more meaningful reasons, I’d replace cars a lot more often. If I could afford nicer cars, I’d probably have one. But I’m more proud that the car is paid for than that is has a flawless paint job. I didn’t have to become a slave to the bank for the next 48-60 months in order to buy it.

And that’s kind of the point. Whether it’s clothes or vacations or homes or cars… what if we based our decisions less on what we wanted and more on what we could actually afford? Could we find more meaningful ways to use the money we’ve saved by slowing down?

How do you save a lot of money really fast? Don’t spend it.

Forget What Can’t Be Done

Mike —  March 20, 2013 — Leave a comment

A couple weeks ago, I found myself strapped into a chair that can’t fly with a buckle that can’t fly. The chair was bolted to a floor that can’t fly with bolts that can’t fly and was sitting inside a tube that can’t fly, either. This tube had wings that can’t fly and was under the command of a man who can’t fly and his team, who also… can’t fly. This vehicular amalgamation of non-flying parts was powered by the massive turbines of its jet engines. Guess what? Not a single piece of those engines can fly, either. Not a bolt, not a blade, not a single scrap of wire in that plane can fly by itself.

But there I sat, in my non-flying seat, pondering my life 35,000 feet above the ground – flying! It’s only as the pieces are put together in exactly the right way, that flight becomes possible for all those non-flying parts and passengers. While today’s passenger jets are a far cry from the flyers of Kitty Hawk, you still have to wonder “What was it that convinced a couple bike nuts in Ohio (the Wright brothers) that they could take a bunch of parts that can’t fly and assemble them in such a way that those parts would fly?”

Ok, maybe you don’t have to wonder… but I did. Even though no one could do it, the Wright brothers did. Even though everyone knew that humans could not be transported through the air like birds, they did it. In little increments at first, that were more like stretched out falling than flying, they did it.

In about the same era that the Wright brothers were widely proving flight was possible, another man set out to prove that cars could be affordable. As he gathered his team to figure how to make the impossible possible, he is credited with this great statement:

“I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”

-Henry Ford

Do you know what can’t be done? Flying.

Mass produced affordable cars.

Travel to space.

Communication over great distances without wires.

The list of what can’t be done is long. And it’s full of lots of things that we do every day!

 

Lots of things can’t be done. Until someone determines that it must be done. Maybe today would be a good day to forget what can’t be done… and…

Forgive the one you can never forgive…

Return home…

Let go of the past…

Ask the question…

Plant the seeds that you just know will never grow…

If you’ve been in student ministry long at all, you’ve probably been confronted with the reality of inconsistency in the lives of your students. Some days, it feels like they’re making choices based on what would make them seem most spiritually bi-polar! One week, a kid spends hours sharing solid, biblical answers to a friend’s tough questions, then the next week she bursts loudly into a quiet moment of prayer, oblivious to the disruption she’s just caused. Week after week, another guy faithfully leads his peers to know Jesus, then 3 weeks after graduation, he moves in with his girlfriend and checks out of ministry altogether. I’m sure you can come up with your own list of examples of just how inconsistent our young people can be.

So, how do we handle this inconsistency?

  1. With Grace. If we’re honest, isn’t their inconsistency mostly a reflection of what they see all around them? Don’t we recognize a little bit of ourselves in their unsettling ability to go off the rails once in a while? The same grace that sustains us and is at work in our lives to sanctify us, should flow through us to those in need of it.
  2. With Courage. We can’t be afraid to urge our students on to live lives worthy of the calling they’ve received. A life that consistently holds out the hope of Jesus’ kingdom is not beyond their reach, but they’ll think it is if we keep lowering the bar of our expectations to a level that lets them skate by in immaturity. “We’re just kids.” is no excuse for anything coming from the mouth of someone who claims to have the Spirit of the Living God living in them! Don’t be afraid to set the bar high.
  3. With Humility. A student who’s inconsistent in his walk doesn’t need a condescending youth leader to tell him how to do it right. He needs a fellow traveler, who’s a little further along the journey and who has learned from a few stumbling moments of his own. Humility will help you learn from your own inconsistencies so you can courageously and graciously help a student find their footing.

Ok, right up front you need to know that there will likely be very little of real value that you can take away from this post. If you need some Scripture applied to your life or some passage or question to ponder, this is probably not going to do the trick. You’re going to want to check some other posts for that… Also, it’ll be kind of long. I’ll try to keep it light and make it worth your while, but… you’ve been warned. I had to find some humor in a crappy situation to keep my grip on sanity intact and just thought I’d share.

I’m a pretty flexible guy when it comes to changing plans, and I’m fortunate enough to have found a girl who could not only put up with that for life, but actually could encourage it and help me make something useful out of it! But we neared the edges of our flexibility last Friday, and at the hands of United Airlines were nearly stretched beyond repair. Ok, that may be exaggerating a bit, but we were definitely forced far from Plan A.

Plan A was a pretty simple plan. On Friday, we were to get up early for a quick drive from Cincinnati to Dayton to get on a plane that would take us to Chicago. Once in Chicago, we would get our flight to Omaha, where we’d be meeting a group of our high school students for Turning Point at Nebraska Christian College. Pretty straightforward plan. Typically for a trip like this, I’m driving the students and not meeting them, but still… other drivers were available and the plan was put into motion.

Only… not quite.

Our flight from Dayton was a little slow to get out, due to some cold, foggy weather, but once the antifreeze was sufficiently sprayed all over the wings (we got both pink AND green!), we were on our way. Incidentally, this was the first time I’d actually seen the de-icing take place in person. A guy in a cherry picker with what basically seemed to be a fire-hose attached to a tanker full of antifreeze fluid sprays it all over the plane as the driver of the tanker slowly drives around it. Now you know!

The flight from Dayton to O’Hare, in Chicago, is pretty quick. By the time the in-flight sodas were slurped down and the garbage collected, our descent had begun. One item of note that, in hindsight may be the linchpin to this whole debacle: there was no coffee on this flight since evidently, whatever process exists to put potable water on the plane for making coffee… was out of commission. I’m sure the lack of caffeine is what caused the rest of the day to unfold as it did.

As our descent progressed, back into the cloud bank that seemed to envelope every part of our country from Denver to DC to Cincinnati to Chicago last week, I was just making out the neighborhoods of Chicago and marveling at how precisely the garages behind houses were lined up in one particular area. The plane slowed and the garages became closer and more clear. Makes and models of cars were just becoming identifiable on the streets and I knew we were getting close. Then suddenly, I felt the thrust of the engines, the pitch of the plane shifted, and we began to climb. What? Were we really climbing? Did the pilot’s gauges lead us astray in all that cloudy mystery?

No. Apparently, there was another plane not quite clear of our runway, so we had to circle back for a while and get back in line to land. At this point, I pretty much knew Plan A was way out the window. When you throw something out a window at 15,000 feet, it tends to do a lot of damage, so I was a little concerned. My concern was heightened increasingly as we sat on the plane, waiting for another plane to pull out of our gate so we could get going. But there’s got to be other flights to Omaha from Chicago right?

When we waited at the gate for our bags to be unloaded (yes, it was one of those little planes), bag after bag kept coming, and I kept thinking “Guess there’s no point to rushing now, our other flight was scheduled to leave 5 minutes ago.” Our bags were the absolute last to be brought up to the gate, and in what may have been fate’s cruelest twist of day, I was right. Perhaps the only flight to leave O’Hare on time all day long was the one we were trying to catch!

We didn’t waste any time getting to the United Customer Service desk and were booked on an evening flight that wasn’t optimal, but would still get us where we needed to be, almost on time. We were also put on standby for a flight that was to leave about noon. We were the first two on the standby list, and the attendant at the desk was very reassuring that we’d be able to get on that flight. I wish she’d been less optimistic! Had she leveled with us and been more open with how things were stacking up with flight after flight delayed (and full) I’d have rented a car and been out of Chicago by 10:30 and been on time getting to Omaha.

We grabbed some food and began the wait. Then we continued our wait. After that, we waited some more, and then I got up because I saw Miss America. Wait? What? You’ll remember that in 2011, a 17 year old from the little corn crops and cattle herds state of Nebraska won Miss America. You do remember, right? Everyone here remembers, because her name’s Teresa and she’s from our church. I don’t often run into former students at airports, but when I do, I like to make sure it’s one of the famous ones! 1 of 3 bright spots of the day was getting to sit and catch up with Teresa, who was on the afternoon flight to Omaha to catch a ride to Lincoln, where an exhibit was opening celebrating her win and it’s place in Nebraska history.

I’m not sure she made it on time, as the flight was about 3 hours late, but I have seen photographic evidence that she did get there – eventually. A lot of people were using the word ‘eventually’ at O’Hare last Friday. They used lots of other words as well (my keyboard zaps me when I try to type them, so I can’t share those words!) as flight after flight was delayed and shuffled from one gate to another. As Teresa and the rest of the passengers finally boarded the plane to Omaha, we knew the call for standby passengers was due. We had seen one person request to be taken off the flight and leave, so we knew there was at least one opening, but another never did materialize. Which brings me to another of the 3 bright spots of Friday. They called my name as I was at the top of the standby list, but when they didn’t call a second name (that of my wife who was second), I stepped back and let someone else take the final seat. A few other guys waiting on standby for another flight asked me, “What happened, now?” I looked over at LuAnn and said “I got married 18 years ago.” There was no way I was leaving my wife stranded alone in Chicago! Duh.

We checked at the service desk to see if any other possibilities had opened up, found that there were none, then settled in for another long wait. The 5:15 flight had already been pushed back more than 2 hours. At this point, I was frustrated beyond belief and kicking myself for not renting a car in the morning. I was also getting hungry. Here’s a quick tip for you if you ever run an airline. When your customers are stranded all day, whether your company is at fault or the victim of weather related delays, it would be a great practice (if you’d like to keep calling them your customers) to offer some food vouchers or something! This seems like a no-brainer to me, but, what do I know? The ‘policy and procedures’ nature of our dealings with United were the most frustrating part of the day. I understand delays. I’m flexible and I’ll roll with just about anything. But could you treat me like a human being instead of a piece of breathing luggage that sort-of, kind-of wants to get from Point A to Point B eventually?

I heard and overheard a lot of “That’s all we can do.” directed at stranded passengers. It was sad, really, to think that a company had bound itself in so rigidly that, as the dominoes fell one by one, the living breathing human beings who’d put their trust in that company had become little more than inconvenient. Granted: many of those human beings reacted in a way that wouldn’t have made it very easy to be accommodating. I don’t know much about the corporate culture of United, but at least with the individuals we talked to behind the counter, it seemed that there was little trust in their employees. They had a script to follow with no room for creatively solving problems – just stick to the script. I’m not that good with a script.

As we sat and waited for the last flight, on which we had seats, I was getting more and more frustrated and discouraged. To be honest, the situation had gotten the better of me until my awesome wife helped me find a little humor. At this point, I began a series of tweets to share the funny side of being stuck. It wasn’t as much an attempt to entertain, as it was a way for me to dig out of the funk I was beginning to wallow in.

Two couples settled in next to us at the temporarily assigned gate. Others did, too I guess, but these two were chatting back and forth about the trip to Ireland they’d just been on. I heard mention of a couple towns near Omaha, so I asked and they were from a small town not too far from where we went to college. We talked a little and they left to go exchange the last of their money. I noticed that after they’d gathered everything up, there was an ipad left, so I ran after them to see if it was theirs. It was.

Looking back, I guess I could have had a new ipad! Instead, though I earned the trust of a random group of people I’d never met before. (Amazing the traction you can get out of a little bit of integrity!) It wasn’t the last time we’d see them. While our random friends were out exchanging Euros for Dollars, the flight was moved to another gate.

LuAnn and I headed over only to notice on the board that the flight was actually cancelled completely. I hoped to get to the service counter before the general announcement was made, but we did slow down enough when we crossed paths again to let our friends know the flight was canceled and the best option at that moment was to get to the counter. We beat the crush of humanity that formed in line behind us and began to discuss with the service reps what our options were. They were limited. We’d be put on standby on all the Saturday flights to Omaha. Luckily we were again at the front end of the standby list…

Yeah right! How do you suppose that would have played out on the Saturday after a packed and backed up Friday at O’Hare? No thanks. “Could you rent us a car?” I asked… but that’s not in their script. The look on LuAnn’s face said “I’m done, let’s just go.” Actually, it may have even been the words coming out her mouth that said that – the details are a little fuzzy due to the effects of spending all day in the mind numbing buzz of the terminal. We had no interest in paying for a hotel room and another day of airport meals, so we headed out to find our own rental. But not alone. Our random friends from NE/IA didn’t really want to stick around either, so we rented a car together. No vans were available at the place that actually answered the phone at the rental kiosk, so we crowded 6 adults in a Crown Victoria. Yes, they’ll fit 6, but don’t expect to be comfortable ~ especially if you’re the youngest sister of 15 children and you get stuck in the middle of the front seat! Sorry, Kim.

As strange as it sounds, this was the third bright spot in our day (night). Kim and Bev are sisters and had traveled with Jack and Dennis to Ireland. It was a joy to get to know them a little bit as we shared space in a police cruiser disguised as a Town Car. After flying from Dublin for a lot longer than we’d been stuck in Chicago, they were still in good humor and really fun to talk to. Which is extremely fortunate, because when you’re stuck together for 470 miles in close quarters, your sense of humor is the only thing that allows everybody to fit! This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to my fantasy of hitch-hiking across the country and it was great!

We missed the first night of Turning Point with our students, but Day 2 was great even without sleep!

I guess that’s life in Plan B C… ah whatever, let’s just go.

In 1 Samuel 15 & 16, Saul’s willful disobedience and what seems to be an ever blossoming arrogance/ego had brought God to a point where He rejected the man the people had chosen as their first king. Saul just couldn’t seem to acknowledge that his first directive as the king of Israel was to obey the God of Israel. Everything else should have grown out of that obedience, so his reign was about to come to an end. God was making another, much less obvious choice to be king in Israel. Saul’s reign was over.

But the priest, Samuel (who had anointed Saul and was now supposed to anoint someone else), struggled a little bit with what he knew God was doing. I imagine that at times, Samuel really felt stuck in the middle, trying to mediate between God and Saul, torn between the power of a man and the holiness of God. Samuel had a hard time letting go of the results of his past work. It couldn’t have been a pleasant time. I mean, who wants the job of telling the king he’s no longer king, right? But, God was at work, and in contrast to King Saul’s failure to comply, Samuel was willing to be moved by God.

You have mourned long enough for Saul.

– God, to Samuel

The time for grieving was over. It was time to move on in obedience to God’s explicit instructions. That obedience ushered in the dynasty of David and the peak of the ancient Israelite nation, but it wasn’t easy. In fact, things got pretty ugly as David went to work in Saul’s palace for a time, then took to the hills to escape Saul’s murderous last grasp to keep power.

What time is it in your life? Is it time to let go of the reassurance we may get from previous choices and move forward into the uncertainty of tomorrow? If God were telling you (like he told Samuel) that the time for mourning was over, what would He tell you about what you lost? What allegiances do you need to lay aside because they’re less important than your allegiance to God? And what is it that He’s leading you into?

We’ll never know if we keep grieving our “Sauls”…