Friday, October 30, 2009

Unyielding Resolve...

"This essential energy of the soul is not an ecstatic trance, high emotion, or a sanguine stance toward life: It is a fierce longing for God, an unyielding resolve to live in and out of the truth of our belovedness." -Brennan Manning

What you really need for the ministry you are called to live out... is God.

There have been times when I thought "All I need for this ministry to really take off is ______." The blank in my mind has been filled in a number of ways at various times: better facilities, a few more adults who really love kids, a bigger budget, any budget, a better band, etc. "Maybe if I get another degree or use the right curriculum or set up the room in just the right configuration..."

The truth is that what I really need to lead youth to the destiny God has in mind - is more of Him. That doesn't simply come to us from a great camp or youth trip - a momentary mountain-top. It comes to us from - no HE comes to us through an unyielding resolve to know that I am loved by God and to live out the knowledge of that love. One of Paul's prayers for the early church was that they would "know this love that surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). When we know the love that is greater than we can comprehend - when we really live out of that love - His power is at work within and through us, doing more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Because I know that I am loved by Him, I can...
-love kids who just come to church to keep up appearances.
-love kids who make the same terrible choices over and over.
-love kids who make the same mistakes I've made because they won't learn from someone else.
-love parents who've spent years breaking their children's spirits and now just wonder why they're so unmotivated.
-love the church even when it too closely resembles our culture's abandonment of the next generation; and love her enough to challenge her to do better.
-love enough to tackle tough issues and tell students the truth (even when it hurts and I know they won't like it).

For over a decade, I've been learning and relearning this lesson. I would have never imagined myself doing any of the above. On my own, I am a small, self-protecting wuss standing on the sidelines watching the fray so I don't get hurt. Left to myself, I am an underconfident pansy resting in the shade where it's comfortable, I won't get stepped on, and no one's mad at me.

Thank God that He hasn't left me to myself... because in Him, I've found who I really am. Not insignificant, not vulnerable - I am His.

Never forget who you are.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When They Like What I Like

I like it when my children like the things that I like. Last night, I took Emily out to run with me. Lizzie and Siah decided they had to go too! I can remember flipping through channels Sunday afternoons before Dakota really talked much. If I happened to come across NASCAR, his grunts made it very plain that he wanted the channel to be parked for a few laps! He'd climb up and watch with me for hours. Now he does this with football, and I finally have him convinced that the Broncos are the good guys.

I like how all my kids have enjoyed playing soccer. It's exciting to watch them develop and learn what they can do. Dakota discovered the thrill of dribbling this year and loves to change directions sharply and watch the other kids scramble and fall all over themselves trying to keep up. Josiah didn't have a very fun season, but the last couple weeks he decided he liked it and was going to have fun - and he did! Emily's not a big fan of extended physical exertion, but she's had fun being part of the team and developing relationships with her teammates (and anyone else on the field who will talk to her). Lizzie can't wait to get on the field and play - and she may have all the tools a girl needs to rule the pitch (definitely has the attitude)!

I love how my kids are always dragging books around. When kids disappear at our house, we usually find them with their nose in a book of some kind. I know this makes us a couple geeks raising a bunch more geeks - and I'm ok with that. I enjoy seeing my kids getting enjoyment from so many of the things that I also enjoy. I don't want to push my kids to be just like me only better and vicariously live through their competitive endeavors to surpass my own failures. I don't want to be "that dad" - but I really do like it when my kids like what I like.

I think this is a reflection of how God feels about us. It brings Him immense joy to see His children caring about what He cares about. As a child of God, I want His passion for humanity to be reflected in my own life. I want to be able to love the way that He loves. I want to live the life that He's crafted me for - and this brings Him great joy. Want to please God? Find something He cares about; pour yourself into it; & live the life you were meant to live.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pray for Ask Anything series

I've been studying and thinking about how to approach each of the topics in the Ask Anything series a lot today. I've haven't looked forward to any stretch of weeks in the four years that I've been here more than the next 8 weeks... or approached them with as much 'fear and trembling'. I want to ask any of you who read this to be praying for our ministry as we go through these tough questions. I challenged the students this week to bring people with them when they come because I know their friends are wrestling with similar questions, and I know that God is what they need. So you'll know what to be praying about, here's a rundown of the next 8 weeks:

10-28 Why would my life matter to God? Why would He care about me? Be praying that God would shed light on the fact that we are made by Him and for Him - He has a purpose for everyone of us, and none of us are insignificant.

11-4 How can we be accepted by God? The way this question was worded reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about baptism that many people hold. Pray that students will come to realize just what (and by what I mean WHOM) can make us acceptable to our Father in Heaven.

11-11 Can I get a second chance at life on Earth after I die? There's a really short answer to this one. Be praying that we'll be able to dig behind the question to understand where it is coming from and offer hope for this life.

11-18 Is my friend who committed suicide in Heaven or Hell? The student who asked this question is hurting badly. Pray that God would heal the residual wounds that suicide leaves so many to struggle with.

11-25 Where did cuss words originate? Just pray that I don't use words this week that will get me fired... Actually, this is a volatile issue for some people and it seems like everyone has their own list of words that are not ok. No matter what I say here, someone's not going to like it. Pray that we could get to the heart of the issue and offer a Biblical answer to the question of appropriate/inappropriate use of language...

12-2 How can I help someone with a dangerous addiction if they don't want help?
There are so many variables to this issue. Pray that we'd be able to address with God's Word the appropriate issues that lead to (and out of) addictions.
12-9 How is it that God is Jesus, who is God, who is also the Holy Spirit, who is also Jesus...? Don't worry about praying for this one, I'm sure explaining the Trinity to teens will be no problem - for Jimmy! Ok, really... pray that we'd be able to allow God to make Himself known as fully as our beady little minds can handle.
12-16 How old is the earth? What is Armageddon? Is everything in Revelation real? The Beginning and The End! Thought I'd combine a couple bookend questions to close out this series before Christmas. Please be praying that the students would get a good sense of the scope of history as we look at the issues of the world's beginning and its end. I hope we can bring some sanity to the whole End of Days issue. I'd hate for people to not recognize when Jesus comes because He doesn't do it the way they expect(ed).

WWmark 3 - A Passion for Revealing God

I can't force someone to Christ. I've been in ministry for over 10 years now, but I've never seen anyone forced into giving themselves to the mission of Jesus. I've seen kids convinced to be baptized because they were "old enough"; I've seen dads coerced to baptism and church attendance to set a good example; but I have never seen anyone truly give themselves to Jesus to be transformed for any other reason but that He called and they answered.

That is why it is so important to me to reveal God to students. He is the only one who can offer the life our world needs. Unfortunately, many of us spend so much time absorbed in our own selves that we stop noticing God. We stop seeing His work all around us. But we want our students to be passionate about revealing God to people who don't notice Him.

I've been reminded through the book of Haggai lately of the importance of this. The people of Jerusalem had forgotten God. His 'house' was in ruins while everyone just took care of their own. They stopped noticing that God wanted to be with them, so they settled for just scraping by through life. I think our world is like that today. Most people, even many who fill church seats on Sundays, go through most days without ever giving thought to the Creator who makes every breath possible - so they settle for something that is less than real living. I want to change that. I want to live my life in a way that leads people to think about God - to notice Him working. I want to challenge our students to do the same.

The reason this is so important to me is simple: God is what we need. I could cajole students into jumping through the religious hoops for a while. I could coax them into the baptistry and bribe them into Sunday School. But I cannot transform them. Only God can shape our lives to be what he intended.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ask Anything Promo

Upcoming Wed. night series: starts Oct. 28th.

video

Job Shadowing Guest Post

I've never had anyone guest blog here, but today I have Arron hanging out all day for a job shadowing project at school. I thought it would be a good idea to have him post a little something. So... here you go.
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Hey I'm Arron and today Mike has allowed me to come follow him around all day. I've never given a guest blog before so this is an experience I'll probably remember. I come to WestWay's Wednesday night youth group and listen to Mike tell all of us students about everything we should know, or at least part of it that is, about GOD. I'm 13 and in 8th grade at Bluffs Middle School in Scottsbluff Nebraska. My class is doing this Job Shadowing thing and it seems like an awesome opportunity and I'm glad Mike is letting me pester him all day. Mike and I are awaiting one of my teachers to just pop up and take pictures { OH JOY } . I hope that my Shadowing experience is going to end as well as it has started.
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Well, there you have it - the inaugural theoquest guest post. Don't let Arron fool you though - we spent most of the morning gluing trim around the floor of a classroom. It wasn't that exciting...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ask Anything

We're doing a series on Wednesday nights right now called "Ask Anything..." where basically the students put a question in a box and we'll discuss what God has to say about the topics in question each week. Last night, students submitted some great questions:

- If God is so big, then why does my life matter to Him and what could my everything be to him? Why would He care?

- How do you stop someone from a dangerous addiction even if they don't want help?

- What is Armageddon and is everything in Revelation real?

- If someone lived life bad even after they were baptized, would God still accept that person again if they change their lifestyle? Even if they did really bad things...

- When we die and meet God at the gates, if we ask for a second chance on Earth, will he allow us that chance?

- How old is the earth?

- When a person commits suicide, did they go to heaven or hell? (I've heard both from so many people, I can't figure which one could possibly be right.)

These are some of the questions our students are wondering about. Last night as I read through them quickly before I headed home, I got excited about Scriptures that came to mind regarding these topics, and about the prospect of digging in to God's Word with my students to hear what He has to say. I'll keep the boxes out another week or so for more questions...

I'm really looking forward to teaching through this stuff - if you have a friend that's not quite sure about your whole church thing, bring them Wed. night...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reconnecting

I returned last night from a good couple days at the state ministers retreat, hosted by CSF. Shane and I headed out after grabbing a quick lunch Sunday. The only disconcerting part of the trip was when the Broncos gave the Patriots a 10 point head start as we listened to AM sports stations across the state. We stayed in Lincoln Sunday night, where both Shane and I were able to reconnect with good friends from our various times on that end of Nebraska.

I hung out with Megan and Lee and Rachel for a little bit (harassing a pepsi serving coke employee), then got to stay at Hudson's house - which, by the way is in the northWEST part of town, nowhere near where I was picturing it! Once I eventually made my way there, I had a great visit with the Shires (well, at least the adults - the kiddos were already in bed). It was very exciting to be with Hudson again and see how God is continuing to use His talented and humble servant. I was glad to catch up, and am grateful to have played a small role in our Father's transformative work... excited to see what develops next as he works with Avant Ministries to support church planting in northern Africa! (If you're looking for a mission to support, let me know and I'll get you in touch with Hudson.)

The visit set a great tone for the retreat the next couple days and despite the lack of sleep, Shane and I got a good start Monday, checked into the monastery/retreat center and settled in to some great conversation with old and new friends and our shared Father. A few of the most important thoughts to hit me during the retreat:
- God is what we need for a life of ministry. (Duh! But never forget it!)
- "Keep in step with the Spirit"; What if this is more than 'walking' - what if it's dancing, keeping time with the music of His Spirit in our lives? This may not be a meaningful distinction to you, but I really appreciated this picture of how we follow His lead.
- If I want to lead more confidently, I need to follow Him more closely.
- I am not home yet.

It was a good time deepening my connection with God by reconnecting in conversation with other ministers, mentors, and friends.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What do you do on Thursdays?

I had a student ask me last night, "What do you do on Thursdays?" This was a much better question than two weeks ago, when a student who is here every week asked me where I work! The Thursday question did seem a little random, but I've had kids do job shadows with me before, so I wasn't completely taken by surprise. It turns out, that's exactly what he had in mind, and he'll be hanging out with me in a couple weeks to find out what a youth minister does. My answer to him was that it really depends on what's going on that week. One of the things I like about ministry is the variety within any given day.

Today was a great example. I wish he could have done the shadowing today. After a little bit of follow up to last night's service, I met with a family to plan tomorrow's memorial service. This morning's time together was great getting to know the family a little bit (at least a couple daughters and a granddaughter). I've never had a funeral preparing conversation more encouraging than this morning's was.

After that, we finished up a re-wiring job here in the sanctuary for a projector that's been on the injured reserve list for enough time now. Back in the game, projector. I commented about how nice it was to have the lift we've been using to make jobs like this possible. After a lunch meeting with some people who are coming together to reshape our student ministry, I went back to my office to work on the funeral and Willie leaned in to mention taking down a speaker that's causing problems. I took a break from the funeral preparation and talked Joe into another adventure with the lift.

The speaker is a little higher than the projector and it hangs right above some steps, so I wanted to make sure someone else was around... just in case. Joe and I got it set up right against the steps and up I went. I'll just say that the lift was not nearly as comforting with the extra few feet of extension and the bulk of the speaker... But the speaker is down, and Shane and I are going to drop it off to be fixed later. That's all I have to say about that.

Now it's back to praying for and planning for the memorial service.

Yeah, it would've been a good day to job shadow. Too bad you missed it. We'll see what your day will bring...
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Quick question for other youth ministers who read this: Do you have students job shadow with you for school assignments? Do you 'save work' for the day they'll be there?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

WWMark 2 - A Global View of God's Church

A second attitude that we want to characterize the students in our ministry is a global view of God's Church. We want our students to see themselves as a part of something that God is working on way beyond our little corner of the world. It always stood out to me that when God blessed Abraham, and promised to make him into a great nation - He had the good of all nations in mind. The church is here today for the good of the world. We aren't just raising up a group of young people to keep our little club going - we are training students to alter the course of human history throughout the world.

Right now, we have a team of people in Haiti, working with the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, that includes a couple of our HS/MS students (and the rest of their awesome family). I am really excited for them to get back and share their stories about what God is doing right now in Haiti. A former student of mine is getting ready to move his young family to Spain in order to be a part of a work that God is doing there. These students are getting a global view of God's church.

I am awestruck when I think about the way God moves in the history of nations and people, and the way He is working through His people all over the world to draw the nations to Himself. He is on the move in the world today. Are we watching? Are we prepared to follow His lead?

Friday, October 02, 2009

WWmark 1 - A Permanent Attitude of Worship

One of the marks of maturity that we want to develop in our student ministry is a permanent attitude of worship. Christians often tend to narrowly define worship in terms of Sunday morning sing-a-longs and sermons. But worship is much more than what happens on Sunday morning and Wed. nights in the church building. We want our students to understand that worship is the way we live our lives.

Romans 12 describes worship as offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. At its heart, this offering is the alignment of our lives with His mission. Taking into account the mercy He has shown us, what other response could be more appropriate than to give ourselves to His mission to restore humanity to relationship with Him? This isn't a once a week event - it is a consistent lifestyle of transformation. It is continually placing ourselves before God with humility, asking Him to shape us for His service. It is sincerely loving His family, including His missing children.

I don't think I'd be too far out on a limb to say that outside of this type of loving life of service, adherence to a Sunday morning ritual is pointless. It doesn't matter if you attend a 'worship service' every week of your life, if your life the rest of the week doesn't reflect His transforming work. It doesn't matter if you hear all the greatest sermons, if you don't ever let the Word of God come alive in your actions and attitudes. Real worship isn't about 'going to church'. In fact, I pray often that people would quit going to church - and learn to BE the church.

A permanent attitude of worship:
- Relies on the mercy of God - always
- Engages in a life-long process of transformation
- Works humbly with whatever gifts God has given for the benefit of His Kingdom
- Loves sincerely both inside and outside the church

May we learn to live as an offering to Him.

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