Archives For January 2014

A Mediator Has Been Provided

Mike —  January 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

If only there were a mediator who could bring us together, but there is none. The mediator could make God stop beating me, and I would no longer live in terror of his punishment. Then I could speak to him without fear, but I cannot do that in my own strength.  ~Job

Job was a man desperate for a negotiator. Something had broken in the good life he was living, something had come between him and the God he served. His friends told him he must have done something to deserve it, but Job wasn’t so sure. Even while he acknowledged his imperfection, he’s feeling like God’s picking on him and he has no way to defend himself. Job knows that the only One who can relieve his suffering is the very One he fears is behind it. One whose presence he is not fit to enter to ask for relief. And so he cries out for someone else to stand in the gap between them.

It amazes me that in one of the oldest parts of scripture, already we see the need for exactly what Jesus is. He is the mediator for which Job begged. He is the one who places a hand on His Father and a hand on humanity and negotiates the peace that only He can provide. The book of Hebrews paints a great picture for us of this mediator who secured our salvation forever with his own blood.

Nothing in all creation can hide from Him. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done. That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to Him and never stop trusting Him… let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. ~from Hebrews 4

This idea of being enabled to enter into God’s presence because of what Jesus did on our behalf echoes throughout the book of Hebrews and resonates deep within our Job-like souls, as well.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus… And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting Him. ~from Hebrews 12

Don’t let your sin convince you that God could no longer love you. He’s taken care of it. He has opened the way of reconciliation to us and we can confidently approach the One who can remake a beautiful work out the broken pieces of our lives.

Beautiful Suffering?

Mike —  January 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

I have a student who’s quickly becoming a hero of mine. It’s not because he’s an all state quarterback or because she’s winning pageants left and right. It’s not about GPA or IQ or Ivy League acceptance letters. It has nothing to do with this student’s abilities or talents or wonderful personality. It’s all about heart. It’s all about the character of Christ that’s being formed and becoming more and more conspicuous in her life. It’s about her willingness to enter into the suffering of someone she didn’t even know. Not in a drive-by, handouts-for-Jesus kind of way, but in a day to day stepping into the mess that someone else has made in order to help them see a way out of it. It looks a lot like Jesus leaving a throne to be born in a stable to die on a cross to rescue us from the mess we’ve made of our lives.

In the last few days, I’ve been reminded that various causes result in different types of suffering in our lives:

There is a suffering that is like Job, losing everything through no fault of his own. It’s not deserved. We didn’t cause it. It’s difficult to understand, and often it’s tough to see the silver lining.

Probably more often, though, our suffering is the result of poor choices, either by us or by someone else. If I choose to live my life in a way that pushes people away, I’ll suffer through the loneliness that action caused. If I’m dumb enough to stick my hand in a fire, I’ll suffer the burns and scarring that will cause. If someone chooses to get high and drive down the interstate, someone else may suffer the consequences of their impaired abilities. This kind of suffering is probably the most familiar to most of us.

But there’s another type of suffering that always amazes me. I remember vividly a moment at a conference where I felt this type of suffering as I literally ached for a student who’s life at home was tearing her apart. It’s the suffering one person can go through on behalf of another when he enters into the other’s own suffering. It’s the kind of suffering Jesus did. And it’s the kind of suffering that makes heroes out of high school kids. As I looked into her eyes last night, the pain was evident. She was hurting ~ because she chose to love someone who was hurting.

There is beauty in this suffering, as the broken pieces of our humanity are joined together to form a mosaic that radiates the restorative power of God’s grace working in our lives. May we each love those who don’t see God enough to suffer with them. And in our suffering, may they see Him.

Abandon the Bleachers

Mike —  January 16, 2014 — 11 Comments

I’m a terrible fan. I just don’t get the whole idea of fan-hood. I ‘became a fan’ of exactly nothing on facebook (though I’m a little better at ‘liking’ stuff). I did have a poster of the Broncos’ 3 Amigos when I was a kid (Can you name them?) and a hat that was autographed by Sammy Winder… but they’re long gone now. For the most part, my life has been free of any ‘fan’ related paraphernalia. No giant foam fingers, no cheese or corn heads, no crazy colored body paint… I guess I’m just not a good fan.

Don’t get me wrong – I love sports. Almost all of them. I do have issues with basketball, but I can sit for hours watching cars turn left, Franco-Italian guys roll around on the pitch as if that beautifully executed slide tackle actually hurt them, grown men throw each other around like my boys do (minus the giggling), huge hulks of men in pads slamming into each other trying to move a weird shaped ball down the field, & even an occasional puck and ice related clash… But I’m just not a good fan.

But I don’t want to be. A football game a couple years back between the Huskers & Aggies really reinforced that. To put it quickly enough to make both sides hate me… the Huskers lost, their fans were bitter about missing out on a last little stab at A&M before they take their ball and go play in the Big 10, the Aggies were saved by Cyrus Gray and Black, White, & Yellow, and their fans are left trying to defend a win that was not as completely earned as they would have liked. I have good friends in both camps. If I were a good fan… I’d be outraged by the poorly timed calls and the ‘how could you not see that’ no calls and the pinching of the nether regions. But I’m not a good enough fan to be outraged (except the pinching stuff… that’s just wrong in any context).

My favorite teams have always been the Broncos and Rapids (Colorado’s other football team!) and the Cowboys (of Laramie, not Dallas). That’s not likely to change, but I’m also not sculpting my bushes into Cowboy Joe, and I’m not spray painting the rocks in my yard orange (although, that one does sound kind of fun, now that I think about it).

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to be identified by a mass of face painted wackos, I don’t want my day ruined when my favorite teams lose (I remember being baffled when I saw the depression, seriously, of Husker fans when they lost one game one special season long ago), and I don’t want to be forced to defend an outcome I had no hand in determining. I don’t want to kick the dog because what I’m seeing on tv is driving me crazy. I don’t want to sit in the stands and scream – I want to be on the field, pouring out everything I can to make sure my team comes out on top when the clock hits 90:00 (+3 or whatever) or zero if you’re more into the kind of football where you can’t use your feet. I know I’ve just wandered away from the realm of sport… but I think Jesus has too many fans in the church.

What if you got off your couch and stopped telling the church what to do to be better… and DID something to BE a better church?

What if more of us stepped out of the crowd cheering for the King as He rides in on a donkey (a fickle crowd that incidentally screamed for His death just a few days later) and joined Him in His work to win back the hearts of His people?

What if we stopped patting the preacher on the back for a job well done and actually did what the Word he’s sharing says we should do?

Jesus doesn’t need us to rabidly abandon all logic to defend Him. He doesn’t need us to buy the latest and greatest Jesus junk, or to hold up our foam prayer fingers at all the right times…

He wants us to step onto the field with Him.

Abandon the bleachers.

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(Read Kyle Idleman’s Not A Fan for a great look at what it means to get out of the stands.)

What’s The Deal With Prom?

Mike —  January 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

Fair Warning: My students may hate me after this post. Yours may hate you if you share it.

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I was talking to a student recently and the subject of prom came up. It’s a little early in the year to dust off the tux, but we have an out of town trip scheduled the same weekend as her prom, so she’s skipping the dance. She said she wasn’t really interested in prom anyway, but would have probably gone because a friend would have made her. That’s code for “I don’t really have a good reason to not go, so I’ll just go so my friends will stop bugging me about it.” I hate that about prom. I hate that it’s become something that must be done.

Sometimes, I think I feel like this just because I’m getting old and grouchy, but then I remember that I didn’t like prom when I was in high school, either. I could take or leave all the showiness, but what’s the substance? Why are we doing this? Honestly, despite being in a very serious relationship during my prom years (a relationship that is still going strong, I should add), the only reason I went to prom was because my mom made me. I should qualify that a little bit… I say she made me, but really I went because I didn’t have a good reason to not go, so I just went so she wouldn’t bug me about it. “You’ll regret it if you don’t go.”

For the record, I don’t regret going, but I wouldn’t have regretted not going either. Nothing happened to change anything for us. Nothing in our relationship was magically better because we went to prom. We got all dressed up and had dinner and stood around in a gym with a bunch of other well dressed people and locked my keys in the car (yeah, I was really smooth back then). We still laugh about the lemon chicken I made, but other than that… it was a non-event. We had much more meaningful dates walking to the park or hiking to a waterfall or just hanging out at Taco Bell.

Which leads me to question. What’s the ROI on prom? What are we getting back for all the expense, and is it really worth it? First, the return in a positive light: We are getting a fun night out for teens. That’s pretty much it, right? It’s fun. If there’s more, let me know. But guess what this fun night of music and dancing is costing…

Just in financial terms, according to numbers from a couple years ago, American families will spend $6.6 billion on prom. That’s $6,600,000,000! That’s insane! Why are we doing this?

Ok, wait… that’s a big number, but there are a lot of people going to prom, right? It’s not that ridiculous when you break it down per person. Right?

Again, according to numbers from recent years, the average American family sending a kid to prom will spend over $1100 for that night of fun. Tell me that’s not ridiculous. I live in a pretty cheap frugal part of the country, so our numbers are lower than that, but even in the least prom-spendy part of the nation (the midwest) families will spend an average of almost $800! Additionally, those of us in families whose income is $50,000 or less typically spend MORE on prom than wealthier counterparts.

How dumb are we?

Is it really THAT much fun?

I’ve got a couple more years to figure out what I’m going to do with prom in my household, but I guarantee we’ll be WELL below average in this department! Maybe we’ll get lucky and our kids won’t have any more interest in prom than we did! But I hate to bring up an issue like this without some kind of suggestions to make it better, so here are a couple things you can do to bring some sanity to prom season.

  • Open the dialogue early. Talk to your kids about prom way before prom season hits. What are their hopes for prom? Who do they want to go with and why? Do they even really want to go? Help them say no if they don’t want to go, but don’t know how to tell their friends they don’t care to go.
  • Set a budget and stick to it. Before the dress shopping begins, before the dinner reservations are talked about, decide how much you’ll spend. Don’t just track the costs, determine what you’re willing to spend. Sit down with your son or daughter and agree to an amount, then allow your child to be responsible for most of the cost. See what I did there? We parents need to stop being so stupid that we pay for everything for our kids. We’re robbing them out of decision making skills they’re going to need.
  • Set a curfew and stick to it. This is not a financial issue. Our kids grow up best when we’re clear about where we’ve set the guardrails and why we’ve set them there. Discuss this openly and even allow a little negotiation. If they want to push a 12:30 curfew to 3 AM, let them explain why. If you want them home at 12:05, give them a better reason than “The dance ends at 12:00.”
  • Plan an alternative. Get together with a few of your kids’ closest friends and plan a group vacation or worthy cause to champion. What could a dozen kids do with $10,000 to donate?! Here’s a thought: Get a group of friends together and give your youth minister $1100 for each kid and ask him to come up with something. I guarantee a more meaningful experience than a night of fun.

Ok, I haven’t even mentioned the sex & drinking & what actually passes for dancing, but I’m done, I’m done. I sound too much like Rev. Shaw Moore already. Hey, I don’t think we need to kill prom altogether. But we don’t need to be so stupid about it, either.

One last lie to close out this series… (after a couple months of not finishing the originally intended 7)

In western culture today, sex is used to sell everything from domain names to beer to cars to fat, greasy cheeseburgers that are anything but sexy. Advertisers have connected sex with just about every product line out there in their efforts to entice buyers. At the same time, popular opinion seems to be that sex (for our species) is little more than a recreational way for our continued survival. It’s just sex... It’s no big deal… It doesn’t mean anything…

Our kids are told to do it safely, but let me ask an honest question… How many 17 year olds are primarily concerned about safety in any area of life? We’re being told the lie that sex doesn’t really matter, but shouldn’t it matter? Isn’t there more to it than biology or a sales pitch? Shouldn’t there be some meaning to our sex (and our lives as a whole, but that’s another issue)? If sex is indeed more than just a biological issue or a sales tactic, what kind of damage are we doing by treating it as less?

  • We’re forcing children to raise children, often without a dad to help guide the way. In Fatherless Generation (which I highly recommend you read), John Sowers shares that “children from fatherless homes account for 63% of youth suicides, 71% of pregnant teenagers, 90% of all homeless and runaway children, 71% of all high school dropouts, 85% of all youths sitting in prison.” Fatherlessness often starts with an attitude that sex doesn’t matter. “Hey, we were just having a good time, I’m not responsible for the kid…” One of the consequences to the “It’s just sex” mentality is that many young girls are left to figure out on their own how to raise the children created. (SIDE NOTE: Ministries like The Sparrow’s Nest near St. Louis are a great responsive step to help girls gain some solid footing as they start their parenting journey. Check out what they’re doing and support their efforts or find something similar in your area to help.)
  • We’re causing a trail of broken-hearted teen moms who thought their only hope was to terminate their pregnancy, or girls who thought her boyfriend would really love her if she just gave him what he wanted. Only, now that he got what he wants, he’s gone, headed for the next conquest. The sorrow these girls carry lamenting what could have been, can be a devastating weight at a critical time in their lives.
  • We’re leaving a bunch of angry and confused boys who thought having sex would earn them the respect they so desperately want, the recognition that they’re a man. Only, after the sex and the bragging were done, they’re still as unsure as ever of what it means to be a man and they still feel like they’re treated like little boys with no self-control. They feel like less than what they really are and can’t figure out what the problem is.

Often, the refrain is that “They’re consenting young adults, what’s the harm?” But there really is a great deal of damage being done in the name of the young, virile, & consenting. This lie is much more damaging than it might seem, so how do we shed the light on the truth?

Where culture wants to reduce sex, what if we made a bigger deal out of it? Instead of failing to teach about sex, what if we recognized and taught about sex as the incredible way God made of connecting man and wife? Sex is a spiritually and emotionally shared experience that is unlike anything else we can share. What if we did a better job teaching this? Health class isn’t going to cover it. If it’s just biology, then health class is right ~ be safe and do what you want. But it’s not just biology. The animals on discovery channel aren’t like you and I, so maybe we shouldn’t just follow their lead.

Additionally, we need to offer hope and redemption. In my experience, two things have led students to check out of student ministry more often than anything else: When they got car keys and a job to pay for the car, and when they had sex for the first time. The first is an issue of being too busy, but in the second case, they stop coming because what they hear causes them to feel worthless, like they’ve trashed the best thing they could ever have with no hope of restoration. The guilt piles onto the shame and leaves them blind to the fact that there is no sin that can drag them so deep they are beyond the reach of God’s love. We need to be careful not to just pour on more guilt. Remember the woman who got dragged in front of Jesus after being caught in the act? (Where was the guy by the way?) Jesus lovingly forgave her without adding to her shame. We need to follow His lead.

Finally, we need to teach our boys that being a man is about valuing humanity, not adding up scores. If we can teach them that, we can show this lie for what it really is.

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As I’m closing this article, I just found another post from Matt Walsh digging into this same lie. Check out “Abstinence is unrealistic and old fashioned” for a deeper look at one aspect of this lie.

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Check out the rest of this series here or each individual post at the following links:

4 Ways to Make 2014 Better

Mike —  January 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

So, how was 2013 for you? Did it live up to all the promise and hope you felt this time last year or did 2013 take a wrong turn somewhere along the way? Maybe 2013 left a little something to be desired. Usually, we start our years with a sense of excitement at what could be, but we don’t always see things materialize over the course of the year. Kind of like we start off excited about getting tickets to a great football game, only, when we get to the stadium there’s just some crappy circus going on. That guy juggling the flaming swords is pretty cool, and that one clown will probably be kind of funny; it just isn’t the game we were expecting. Of course, maybe you like the circus a lot more than I do and I totally lost you with that analogy – sorry. The point is that the sense of hope and promise that January brings isn’t always fulfilled by December so we get all amped up at the turn of the calendar thinking this will be the year when it all turns around… But too often, we just get stuck repeating the cycle of last year.

Whether 2013 was great or terrible for you, here are a few ways to make sure you don’t get stuck…

  1. Stop only talking about the problems and difficulties you’ve had. Whether it’s in business or ministry or just life in general, it’s important to talk with the team that’s on the mission with you, especially when it comes to discussing difficult issues that threaten the health of that mission. But it’s not enough to just talk about the issues, we need to also take action that can realistically change something. Then we need to follow up with each other on the results of those actions.
  2. Take action instead of only being intentional. This really is the mindset behind #1, but I thought I’d give it its own slot anyway. Being intentional is deceptive, so we have to be careful not to get tripped up on our own good intentions. You can hold on to intent for a really long time and as long as you keep talking about it, people around you will keep hoping things will change, too. But intent alone is not enough to change anything without putting your intent into action. You can set your New Year Resolutions and make your list of lofty goals, but unless you take some concrete action, 2014 will probably end up a lot like 2013. Are you ok with that?
  3. Work at something new instead of just working harder. This one’s a little tricky because it feels like if we work harder, things should improve, right? The problem is when we work harder at the wrong things. As long as we keep doing the things we’re doing, we can do them a little bit better without actually changing anything substantial. We’ll keep getting basically the same results and 2014 won’t really be any better. But what if we tried something that we hadn’t tried before and worked hard at that? That’s the stuff that will change a year.
  4. Don’t hide. A few weeks into the year, when the initial resolve has worn off, you might feel like resigning yourself to one more year that’s mostly like the last one. You might be tempted to close yourself off in an office or a cave or an unused circus tent somewhere and pretend everything’s fine. Please don’t. The world doesn’t need another pretender, it needs you to live life brightly. Share your life and your struggles with a few trusted friends who can walk with you through the difficulties of growth. Change for the better isn’t easy and we all need a team working with us to grow.

There are always things beyond our control, circumstances that hit us right in the throat and make it hard to even breathe. But they don’t have to be allowed to make a crappy circus out of your life. You can’t change some of the things that are happening around you. Let the circumstances hurt you, grieve while you need to, but please don’t stay down. You can decide how you’ll respond to the chaos of life. Will you hide or show the true color of Christ alive in you? Will you continually analyze what might have been and talk circles around the problems or will you take action to gain strength from resolving them? Will you keep banging your head against the same wall, or will you do something different that will be like a good blast of C-4 to take the wall out completely?

I vote for C-4.

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Quick note: Sometimes, we get stuck because we forget what we’re all about. One of the things that’s helped me recently to refocus on my mission is the quick video project I posted a few days ago. Check out the video and have fun with the life trailer exercise.