Friday, September 26, 2014

Eating Solid Food

This past Wednesday night we continued our series called “Alive” with high school students. We talked about the fact that just as our bodies grow and require a different diet as we get older, our spiritual health requires a different diet for us to mature as well. I shared with students that if they are dependent on other people to feed them God’s Word, their growth will be limited by the maturity and knowledge of the person they are choosing to feed them.

I asked them to consider making a conscious effort to read God’s Word for a week. To give them the best chance for success, I asked them to do three things:

1 - Pick a time. Picking a regular time to dive into God’s Word each day will help make it a habit.

2 - Pick a starting point. Many people (not just teenagers) get discouraged when they begin to read God’s Word. I offered some less intimidating entry points like 1 John or any of the four gospels.

3 - Write something down. I suggested that the best way to interact with reading God’s Word was to write down something about what they read. If they struggle with that, a good tact is to try to answer three questions at the end of each reading: 1)What does this reading tell me about God? 2)What does this reading tell me about myself? 3)What does this reading tell me about others?

I hope you will encourage your students to dive into God’s Word and give it attention DAILY in their lives. If you can read some of the same passages, it will help foster discussion about matters of faith when you are together.

- Michael

Friday, September 19, 2014

God's Word Is Not Boring!

This past Wednesday night we began a new series called “Alive.” This series focuses on the fact that God’s Word is ALIVE and effects change on lives when it is read. I challenged your students to look at the Bible beyond what many young people stereotype it to be.

For example, many of them related to these examples of what God’s Word is like to some people:

1 - A book your grandmother reads (it’s a book for “old” people)

2 - A foreign language book (difficult to understand)

3 - A history book (about dead people and past events)

4 - A magic 8 ball (you ask it questions and “hope” for the answer you want)

I asked your students to consider jumping into God’s Word by reading a verse a day. For some, a chapter a day might be more appropriate. It’s actually a great time for you to partner with your student to do this as our current Bible reading plan at church only tackles a chapter each day. You could read and discuss the Scripture with your students along with the rest of our church. PLUS - the reading is the text for our Sunday morning message and reflection series. It really is TOO GOOD for you to pass up! :)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Family Plus Update - High School Ministry

This past Wednesday night we completed our three week series on "Comparison." We wrapped up by looking at the parable of the talents. The main idea we wanted to drive home with students is that when we give an account to God for our time here on earth, we will NOT be judged on what we didn't have. Rather - we will have to account for how we used what He DID bless us with during our time here (talents, resources, abilities, etc.).

This Sunday we will be talking about "God Cannot Be Improved." We will discuss that because of His passionate jealousy for our worship, God condemns idolatry. We will talk about the dangers of idolatry because it distorts our view of God and corrupts our behavior. It leads us away from God and toward a false god who is powerless to save and transform us.

If your student has signed up for our high school mission trip to New York, the non-refundable deposit of $150 must be paid by Wednesday, September 17. This allows us to pay our deposits to our third party vendors. If you want to pay the deposit OR the full amount online, you can do so by following this link:

Thanks so much! Let me know if there's anything I can pray about for or your family.

- Michael

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Psalm to God

As we began the 2014-2015 school year, I asked our worship band to complete an assignment together before they began leading corporate worship: write a psalm together.

At their first rehearsal they began by getting in a circle and sharing experiences of joy, pain, good times and bad and processing those thoughts with the group through the lens of Christ’s influence and care in their lives. It was a pretty powerful moment in a way I had not predicted. After their share time, each person in the group was charged with submitting a verse of text that captured their feelings.

After all the submissions were in, the group met and put their psalm to music. This past Wednesday night they shared it with the high school group during our corporate worship time. They lyrics are below; I hope you enjoy reading their hearts. I’ve included a link to a video of part of their psalm as well.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can pray about for you or your family.

- Michael

How can You take something from nothing
And make my world whole again
When it’s broken all into pieces (x2)

Though I may walk upon the shifting sands
And I go through the weary times
I know You hold me in Your hands
You hold me close and mend my heart
You’ve always been here straight from the start

I won’t give up, I won’t give up
Cause Lord You are strong
I won’t give up, I won’t give up
You can carry me on
You can carry me on now

Cloudy days or stormy nights
You said You’d always be there for all the fights
My name is written in the palm of Your hand
With a nail scar running through You
Yeah, it’s a running through You

I won’t give up, I won’t give up
Cause Lord You are strong
I won’t give up, I won’t give up
You can carry me on
You can carry me on now

Don’t bottle up the emotions inside
When your heart is in the sands
Eventually you’ll break down
And end up crying in your hands
You still stand strong and help me heal (x4)

I won’t give up, I won’t give up
Cause Lord You are strong
I won’t give up, I won’t give up
You can carry me on
You can carry me on now

Friday, August 29, 2014

God's Law and God's Love

Hello HS Parents!

This past Wednesday in our high school meeting we talked about “The Comparison Trap.” We talked about the results when we look around at other people and compare ourselves to them: we never measure up! Our text was Ecclesiastes 4 where Solomon talks about how chasing after so many things in life is like chasing the wind - you’ll never catch it!

This week we begin a new lesson in our Bible teaching hour on Sunday mornings. We are going to be looking at God as a “Loving Lawgiver” as well as how His laws are given because of the love of His children. Trevin Wax states, “God’s love isn’t set against the Commands of Scripture; the Commands are grounded in God’s love for His redeemed people.”

If you student wants to signup for our October mission trip to New York, now is the time! Cost is $300; dates are October 4-12.

Please let me know if I can pray about anything for you or your family.

- Michael

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Someone Ministered To Me

Someone ministered to me tonight at a worship service in Queens. 

When you’re a preacher kind of person it can sometimes be difficult to receive ministry from others. It’s not like you don’t want to ask for it or that you’re even hesitant to seek it. Rather, it’s just that the opportunity doesn’t present itself that often. I guess you have to be deliberately looking for it and chase it down when you spot it, or you need to be obedient if you feel the Lord leading you to reach out to another brother or sister for ministry. It could also happen, however, that the Lord will send someone to give you a gentle nudge. That was my experience tonight.

Our high school mission team had the privilege of attending a worship and prayer service tonight at our host church: First Presbyterian Church, Jamaica, Queens. As the service opened with praise and worship our group stood and participated as best we could. We didn’t know all of the songs, but we gave it our best shot and were happy to be sharing this time with members and guests of the church serving as our home for the week. 

After a few songs, however, the service shifted to a time of prayer. During this time the congregation was encouraged to get in pairs and pray for one another. My eyes looked across the aisle AWAY from my group and met the eyes of a retired age lady, and I knew this was who I would share the time with. I shared with her a couple of things that she could pray for me - specifically for my family (and me, I suppose) as I am really missing Kelley and Carver as we near the end of the summer. I also asked her to pray for our students; I want them to experience giving something back, but not in the name of “good deeds.” No - I want them to be sharing their energy, resources, and time for the sake of and cause of Christ. She reciprocated with some things that I could pray for her. It was a very moving time for me…but that’s not “really” where the ministry happened.

After the prayer time we moved into the teaching time and heard a message from a lay minister. She offered insight as to how one might find inner peace in this life. She declared that the peace we are all looking for is the peace that passes all understanding and comes only from Jesus Christ. It was a thoughtful, insightful, and biblical message. I very much enjoyed the content and her passion for Christ as well as her presentation.

As we moved into the altar call (their term, not mine), they offered a time for receiving prayer if anyone was interested. I watched a lady walk up to the altar; she was anointed and prayed over by the minister serving the congregation. Then she (the one who had just received prayer) stepped to the side to receive people as well. As that happened, I was struck for a moment that I might wish to have one of these women pray for me. I wasn’t particularly stressed, and I didn’t have this burning “something" inside of me just begging for relief. I just felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit and wanted to be prayed for. 

As I was rolling a ton of reasons through my mind about why I really shouldn’t go to the altar, the sweet lady who prayed for me earlier stepped into the aisle, turned around to me, and motioned me to come with her. I immediately stepped out and took her hands as she said to me, “Let’s go pray.". She led me to the altar and made a hand-off (pun intended) to one of the ministers. This sweet lay minister held me and prayed a beautiful prayer over me. I hugged her, thanked her, and made my way back to my seat. It was not earth shattering. It wasn’t hyper emotional. I absolutely did not feel the earth shake under me. But it was monumental to me; both of these ladies had ministered to me selflessly and with great passion.

I found myself thinking later about the exchanges I had with them. We have different backgrounds. We do not live in the same part of the country. We do not have the same (presumably) socio-economic standing. We are not the same color. We are not the same religious denomination. But we do share a belief that Jesus Christ is King. We share an utter dependence on Him and Him alone. We worshipped Him tonight - together, and we did so as one body and one voice. That doesn’t shake the earth, per se, but it shakes my heart and spirit in profound ways. I was thankful that someone ministered to me tonight at a worship service in Queens. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Europe Update - Scouting Trip So Far

We spent our first couple of days with Ute in Bicester which is about an hour or so drive from Heathrow. Over that couple of days our high schoolers spent time talking with teenagers in the area, attending a youth worship service, and playing some of our NOLA games in an elementary school. It was INCREDIBLY informative...particularly the time we spent at the school. The teachers and volunteers at the school were able to see our students doing some of what they do best, and it also allowed our students to see how the children in England would respond to our games - it was a BIG win for both.

On our last afternoon in Bicester, we took a bus to Oxford. Our students were able to visit/see the Oxford Museum of Natural History, the Bodleian Library, Christ Church Park, The Eagle and Child, The Lamb and Flag, several different colleges at Oxford University, Hertford Bridge, Radcliffe Camera, Martyrs' Memorial, University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and Carfax Tower. 

This morning we made the trip from Bicester to Islington (a borough of London) to meet up with our host church pastor as well as Alex. We were able to turn our 1.5 hour journey into about 3 or 4 hours due to some issues with the routing of our GPS. We finally made it, though, and were able to meet our host, have lunch, and head out to begin our work for the evening with Teen Challenge.

Tonight, after serving in Hackney with the Teen Challenge group of London, we were able to come back to our host church and debrief what we have experienced so far. We worshiped together and thanked God for what He is doing in this area and for His provision for us. In the morning after breakfast, each student member or our team will complete an assignment assessing how they could see the gifting and resources of The Glade Church being paired with the Bicester community. Afterward, we will begin working with our host church in Islington in the immediate area surrounding the church.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Resting While You Work

Sounds crazy, right? But I was able to do this just this past week!. Part of my job responsibilities for the new mission trip focus we will have in New York is scouting each aspect of the trip. That means that I visit every place we will go, take a look at our lodging and transportation solutions, and ensure that all the details are in order for the trip BEFORE we show up with students. One of the last pieces to this plan was to scout the road-trip aspect of our New York trip. I did that this past week. AND - I took my family along for the trip.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Maybe your job doesn’t include a road trip to the Big Apple or climbing into a car for sixteen hours (one way) with your family. Or even if it did, that might not sound relaxing to you. But that’s not the point. The point is that if you have a busy schedule that, for the moment, is inescapable - you should look for ways to include your family in that work if at all possible.

I do this on occasion locally as well. If I’m going to be working in our Student Life Center, I take Carver along to help and hang out. If I’m going to be doing some yard work around the house, I want to make a way for him to be outside with me. If I’m running errands for home on a Saturday, it’s nice to have him ride along so we can talk and maybe drop by McDonald’s so he can get a cookie or two. (He’s not an ice cream fan at all).

When we spend this time together, I do my best not to take any calls. In fact, I try to use my phone for just one thing - playing and enjoying music that he likes. That is something we enjoy doing together. And being in the car or working together provides a great opportunity to multi-task with a shared joy in our lives - music.

Get creative with your time. When you feel you can’t unplug and get some good rest - see if there’s a way to merge work and play so you are getting quality time with your family while fulfilling your other responsibilities. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it’s better than none at all.

Let me know if there’s anything I can pray about for your family.

Friday, May 16, 2014

God Wants You To Rest

This is something I wrote this week for Preacher's Corner, but I thought it would be a great message to parents of high school students - especially as we near the end of the school year.

God Wants You To Rest

Have you noticed how busy we all seem to be these days? Most of the people I interact with on a regular basis are living extremely busy lives. They are always on their way to do something, coming back from doing something, or on the phone or computer scheduling a new “something” to do in the future. In fact, I can’t think of a single person in my circle of friends who I could consider to be living a life that models the rest that God outlines for us in His Word. (That broad statement includes my own disobedience in this area).

Many of the people I ‘m thinking about could be best categorized as workaholics; they have busy jobs with high demand that, on the surface, might seem to justify the constant activity that makes up their lives. Certainly such a pace must be worthy, right? I mean, come on, God wants us to take pride in and execute our work with His excellence and zeal, right? Of course He does! But doing so requires that we approach life and work with the balance He outlines in His Word. After all, when He finished creating the heavens, the planets, the stars, the earth and everything that walks, breathes, crawls, swims, flies, laughs, cries, bites, stings, and nests upon it - He took a break. He modeled rest for us right from the beginning...and not because He was tired.

So how might we add rest to schedules that are already overbooked with meeting the demands of bosses, friends, co-workers, spouses, family members, and the laundry list of other people we so greatly value in our lives? It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

First, we have to be intentional. We have to begin scheduling rest, on purpose, onto our calendars with the same, or higher, priority as the other things that dominate our time currently. If we have proven anything thus far, it’s that rest is not going to just happen for us by accident. There are WAY too many people and “opportunities” chasing and scratching for our time and attention to just leave our time to rest to chance. We have to be intentional.

Second, we have to learn to say no to things that are important in order to say yes to other things that are more important; one of those more important things is rest. There is absolutely no end to the causes that other people will allow you to care about on their behalf…things that are admirable, God-honoring and worthy of quality time being spent on them. But if your focus on those extra things takes over the time you have set aside to honor God by resting, you are stating to God that you have figured out a better plan than the one He modeled from the beginning.

Lastly, it has to be guilt-free. If rest is not a regular part of your schedule right now, practicing it might make you feel guilty at first. It might even make you feel like something is missing or that you are weak for needing good rest. Nothing could be further from the truth. A life that includes rest is balanced; it is healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually. Taking time to rest means you’re not just obeying something that God commanded, it means you are practicing something that He modeled. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

High School Missions - A New Chapter

Most of you know by now that we have completed our work in the New Orleans area. This summer we will turn our focus to New York City and the victims of Hurricane Sandy. We will be working on the Rockaway Peninsula in the New York City borough of Queens.

Robert and I visited there this week to get an idea of the work we will be doing; what we saw was something VERY familiar to us. We will be working with a group called “Friends of Rockaway” which is a companion group of Saint Bernard Project. We are familiar with their work as we have partnered with them before while working in New Orleans.

We were allowed to tour a couple of the work sites and, again, found some very familiar things happening. The homes we visited had been under about 4 feet of water and  were buzzing with volunteers working on drywall, flooring, and painting - all the things we learned to do while working in New Orleans! It seems like a great opportunity for us to use in another part of the country the skills we have developed while helping Katrina victims.

We are very excited about the work God is calling us to do in New York. Please be praying that we will find ways to honor God’s Kingdom as we serve those in need, and that we will be able to forge new relationships that will allow us to speak His message of Truth to individuals and families there.

- Michael 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Taking The High Road

A friend this week commended me regarding a situation where he had observed me “taking the high road.” We typically consider “the high road” to be the one more difficult to take. It’s the path less traveled by because it doesn’t really get glory or realize personal satisfaction. It’s usually the one that puts you in the second seat and others ahead of you. And to be quite candid - it’s a road that is usually more difficult to take. In fact, I would say that I’m not accustomed to the scenery of the high road because I feel that I take it too infrequently.

This week we started a new series in our high school ministry called “Entourage.” We talked about the friends around us, the kinds of friends they are, and the kinds of friends we are to them. We looked at the story of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18, 19). Jonathan was a completely biased friend to David, but he was biased in DAVID’S favor! He moved out of the way to put David ahead of him, and only got “in the way” when it was time to protect David.

As adults, our relationships are not much different than those of students we love. We have to navigate situations all the time that define the nature of the friendships we claim to cherish. Our behavior in those crucial times will reveal our true hearts about those people, though, and show who we really love more - ourselves or others.

Jesus said in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Then He modeled this love by dying on the cross for us. 

What kind of friends do you have? What kind of friend are you to others? Is your mindset “me,” or is your mindset “we?”

Let me know what I can pray about for your family.

- Michael

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Different Kind of Freedom

In a few months we’ll be gearing up to celebrate our nation’s birthday. Independence Day is not just about back yard burgers with the neighbors or an excuse to set off mini explosives attached to popsicle sticks - it really is a time where we can pause to celebrate that we live in the greatest nation on the planet.

It is also a time to give thanks for those who provide that freedom for us. Those who take up a weapon. Who stand a post. Who step into harm’s way. And some who even give what we call: The Ultimate Sacrifice. I believe it is appropriate to give thanks both for the nation in which we live and to the scores of young men and women who ensure the freedoms we enjoy as a result.

There is a different kind of freedom that we enjoy, though, that doesn’t always receive the same degree of pomp and circumstance as the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s the freedom that we enjoy as citizens of the Kingdom of God. And that freedom, too, came with a sacrifice - The Ultimate Sacrifice. And the stakes were much higher than the temporal freedom of one nation; the eternal fate of humanity was in the balance.

When Christ staggered up Calvary, His footsteps were not unsteady solely due to the weight of the cross He was carrying - the weight of your sin and mine was infinitely heavier than those wooden beams. And as He completed His task of bearing our sin and shame, there were no medals to be given or parades in His honor. Rather, the One who sent Him on the mission to begin with actually turned His back on Him just as He needed Him most.

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. It’s the day we remember Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He came into the city on a donkey and the crowd paved the street before Him with palm branches. And it seems almost impossible when reading those words that some of the same people who shouted, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  in those moments would just a few days later be shouting, “Let Him be crucified!!”

On Palm Sunday at the Glade Church you will have an opportunity to hear clear teaching on The Ultimate Sacrifice that Christ made. You will have the opportunity to sing praises to Him. You will have the opportunity to receive communion. But most of all, you will have the opportunity to honor the One who gives life…and gives it abundantly. You can give thanks for a different kind of freedom.

Friday, April 4, 2014

I Doubt You'll Read This

I doubt it. 

No doubt about it.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

We’ve all likely used these phrases at some point in our lives. But when we start thinking about doubt as it relates to our faith, it can feel “wrong” to many of us. I think that’s because although we know the basic tenets of our faith, it can be challenging for us to be “okay” with questioning the foundation on which they are built. It’s almost like questioning our faith lessens our belief. 

I experienced this the other day in my truck while listening (on YouVersion) to the book of Romans. In chapter four there is a reference to Abraham and the law. Well, I got to thinking about Abraham and his wife having a child, a promised child, so late in life. Then I got to thinking about how long he lived (175 years). That made me think of how long other people in the Bible lived. Adam - 930 years. Noah - 950 years. Methuselah - 969 years. Somewhere along this bunny trail I was chasing my faith collided with my sense of reason.

Could these men have REALLY lived that long? Was a “day” in Genesis the same as a 24 hour day today? If they did live that long, what was different then? Could the impact of sin be SO profound that it lessened the length of human life? If sin had not entered the world, was human life EVER supposed to end in the first place? 

As I asked these questions to myself mentally, they came with a certain degree of guilt. Yet as I reviewed them over and over, they seemed (to me) to be completely FAIR questions…questions that actually drive my faith AND my sense of reason to a common ground. They are helpful questions that deepen my understanding of those tenets of faith I mentioned earlier.

As a minister to students, I want teenagers to have a sense of awe and a sense of wonder when interpreting God’s love letter to us, the Bible. To do so, I want them to feel free to ask tough questions. I want them to have a healthy doubt that drives them to ask critical faith questions. Why? Because I believe there are answers to be given. I believe we serve a God who doesn’t fear these questions. In fact, I think He knows those questions can drive a closer relationship with Him. He knows that these questions reveal a grace and love that can come from no other source but Him. So, yeah…I think He’s good with that.

I hope you will be open to sharing your doubts with your teenagers. I hope they can feel permission to share theirs with you. And I hope you will be able to explore the answers to your faith questions together. 

Please let me know what I can pray about for you or your family.

- Michael

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Take In Some Teen Culture This Week...And Next Week, Too

One of the expected blockbusters of 2014 started in theaters this week - Divergent. Actress Shailene Woodley plays “Tris” who has to learn quickly that being “divergent” carries with it uncertainty and danger. To be remain safe from that danger, she must continually hide, even lie, about who and what she really is.

The heart of this book (and movie) revolves around a prominent narrative in teen culture right now: survival. Tris is constantly facing new discoveries and new battles that challenge both who she is and who she is going to be. If you read the book you will find yourself cheering for this young girl as she pushes through these obstacles. But you’ll also find yourself quickly relating to her struggle and finding parallels of them in your own life.

Stepping into the false reality of this book, and many others like it, can give you a very real sense of the teenage spirit and mindset. The world in which students live is much different than the one in which most adults live. In fact, I would guess that most parents would be surprised at the everyday goings on in the world their teenagers live in day after day…things that would utterly astonish them. 

A student asked me this past week why I was going with a group of students to see Divergent and not promoting the popular Christian movie release, Son of God. Well…it’s not an “either/or” issue for me. Divergent has my attention simply because it has THEIR attention. I would encourage you to step into their world, listen to their language, and understand their values. One of the best ways to do this is by engaging the media that they consume. 

Let me know if there is something I can pray about for your family.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sometimes Following God Is Painful

Many of you have heard me speak about bringing our work in the New Orleans area to a close this year. Although New Orleans holds a very, very special place in our hearts and is certainly a key part of our ministry to and with high school students, there have been some signs that it is time to move on. And those signs have been affirmed in our current trip to New Orleans.

But having been down here so long (8 years now) and on so many trips (right at 30 just for high school ministry), we are now faced with saying good-bye to good friends who have become…well - family. We love these people. We love this city. And we love the work we’ve been blessed to do here. It’s difficult to walk through the process of knowing we will be leaving something that means so much to us. And the pain of that separation has, as well, been affirmed with our current trip to New Orleans.

The interesting thing is that as we have shared with people in this area that we are shifting our focus to the many people up north who remain homeless or affected in other ways by Hurricane Sandy - no one understands that better than people here. Many of the people we serve in St. Bernard Parish lost everything in Katrina….and lost it all again in Isaac. They “get” that we need to move to the places where we can be most effective both for God’s Kingdom and for those who still need assistance with the most basic needs of life.

I hope you will join me in praying for peace and direction as we prepare to enter a new season of ministry with our high school students. There’s not much about this that will be easy, but it will most certainly be familiar. We watched God forge strong relationships in a crucible of pain and suffering in this area. We witnessed and participated in His name being lifted high among the chaos, and we were blessed to bring Him glory for everything He has done and continues to do through us in this place. I can say with the utmost integrity that HE has been the star of our work in New Orleans - not us. 

As sad as it makes me to leave a place that has monopolized the last 8 years of ministry for me - I’m invigorated about the possibilities that God has not yet even revealed that await us in New Jersey and New York. I’m excited about making Him famous there…and beyond. It is for His Name and His glory that we are privileged to serve. Please pray that He leads us to do nothing less.

- Michael

Friday, February 28, 2014

Clutter Slows You Down

I have had my current email address for a LONG time now…almost 15 years. When you have an email address for a long time like that, some things just tend to happen naturally. You use it for everything. Most people you contact regularly know it without looking in their contacts. And, unfortunately, you begin to get mail from sources you never even knew existed.

Over the past several days I have been attempting to narrow the time I have to spend each day deleting unwanted emails. Now, as I write this, I’m PAINFULLY aware that this message is one of those messages that regularly hits YOUR inbox. To be clear, I still have some messages like this coming to me as well. But what I’m trying to do is make sure that the messages I’m choosing to receive regularly are ones that merit the time I have to invest in reading them. To that end, I have clicked the “Unsubscribe” link a LOT in the past week.

My wife, Kelley, is AMAZING at this! Every single day she has something that I have to set goals and carve out time to achieve - an Inbox with ZERO messages. Her desk is neat. Her calendar is neat. And even though she doesn’t dot her I’s with little hearts or put smiley faces in her o’s and zeros, she has an incredible gift of organization that makes me the perfect yin to her yang. 

I’m in a season right now where I am trying to identify priorities and give them my clear focus and more attention than less important things in my life deserve. To do that, I’ve got to get rid of some clutter. Clutter in your life just slows you down. You have to look longer for things, and you have to sift through junk to get to the treasure. Worthy things that are desperate for your attention suffer when you have to sift through the clutter to get to them.

So, what if you’re like me and not as organized as someone who has color coded bins in her closet? Embrace that God did not put that within you and that organized people will never understand why you are so messed up. BUT - do yourself a favor and use the brain God gave you to compensate for that gift you’re lacking. Systemize your approach to life and set priorities - then follow them. It’s likely that you won’t be able to do that without getting rid of a little clutter in your life. And in chasing discipline in this area of your life you might find that you’re more disciplined in other areas. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Chaos, Confusion, and Great Faith

The past few days in Wilson County have been difficult to navigate for young people and parents. Two more young lives came to an end far too early and under difficult and jarring circumstances. Coupled with a teen suicide earlier in the month, these events certainly lead to questions and emotions that have at their center the ability to shake, strengthen, or cloud our faith. How can we have great faith in the midst of such chaos and confusion?

I shared with students this past Wednesday night about the answers to those kinds of questions by looking at pioneers of faith in the Old and New Testaments. I shared with them how easy it seems to have faith when God sends the flood just as He promised after directing Noah to build the ark. When He shut the mouths of the lions after Daniel maintained his faith and practice of regular prayer with God. When He allowed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to survive the fiery furnace that was fueled by Nebedchanezzar’s anger of their obedience to their God over his command to bow to an idol. We LOVE those representations of faith because they have a Hollywood ending where the underdog wins in the end. 

But what about other times in our faith? What about the times when God does NOT seem to come through for us? What about when our prayers seem to go unanswered, or, worse yet, result in an answer that counters what our faith suggests “should” happen. I think that it’s in these times that we need to cling to our faith more than ever. I must confess that it’s easier to write about such things when one is not in the midst of the pain that goes with such chaos and confusion. That does not change, however, that great faith is needed in times of great strife.

As Christ followers we can be convinced of a few things:

1 - None of the battles we face are “Front Page News” to the God of the universe. God has known since before we were born every single challenge we would face. And as we have journeyed closer and closer toward them, He has been preparing our hearts to cope. He’s been  putting people in our lives who can support us and who have been through similar circumstances. His heart has been broken by the things that we will face as well as His knowledge of how we will react to Him as a result of how we interpret our suffering. He is not surprised. At all.

2 - Our view of His plan is both limited AND selfish. Most of the time when we face suffering, we can’t see the good that can come from it as we are too blinded by the pain. I would think that this is even more magnified when the pain includes a parent outliving his or her child; it’s just NOT the way things are supposed to go. But when God looks at the overall plan, His scope is far broader than we can ever imagine; His goodness permeates the most horrible of situations. Quite possibly the toughest thing to remember when living in great chaos and confusion is that God has not stopped, even for a second, being good. Whether your belief is that He calls people home sooner than others or that He simply allows things to happen for a reason - either way, both are overflowing with His goodness. That is good theology, but it can be incredibly difficult to live while in the middle of the pain.

3 - He, Himself, has faced that horrible pain as well. I think most of us have great capacity to love. But I have yet to meet someone who would willingly lay down the life of his or her child for someone else. Sure, there are PLENTY of folks willing to lay down their own lives for a friend or loved one, but laying down the life of your own child is altogether different. Yet when God looked at us, something about us made us worth it. Something about us made Him willing to lay down His own Son as a sacrifice for our disobedience. He was willing to repay rebellion with salvation. He was willing to do ALL the giving while we continued to do ALL the taking. Talk about something that’s not going the way it is supposed to - how could we for one second fathom that He would be willing to give His only Son for those who continue to mock, violate, and dismiss the love that drives His willingness to save us? Now THAT’S unfair.

As I have tried to interpret for myself the events of the past several days, I find that I am selfishly viewing them in a manner that affects me. I have focused on what I have experienced and the difficulty of losing young lives. I have had to remind myself that the source of my strength can absolutely NOT be the source of my pain. I have had to remind myself that though my heart breaks, the heart of God was broken long before mine - AND it was broken FOR me. And that as I navigate the loss of life, I have to do so while acknowledging the One who gives life - and gives it abundantly. 

Please let me know what I can pray about for you or your family.


Friday, February 7, 2014

I Think He Wants More

Last night we held a meeting for high school students interested in participating in our International Mission Trip this year. For the past four years our focus for international missions has been in Surco, Peru, about three hours outside Lima. But since our partnership with International Christian Youthworks last year brought us two interns from Europe, Alex and Ute, a new opportunity emerged for us to scout possible mission opportunities in that part of the world.

As you would imagine, telling a group of high school students that we are going to England is received a bit differently than telling them you are going to a third world country. In our meeting last night I was very clear with students and parents that our church is not in the business of sponsoring student tours to Europe. This trip, like all others we take, is about investing in God’s transformational work through His Son, Jesus Christ. This will be a working trip that requires us to step out of our comfort zones. This isn’t a “comfy” trip so students can see another part of the world.

To convey that sentiment, I felt led to make a more concerted effort to assist students in defining their calling to participate on this trip. Students desiring consideration to participate have to complete the following requirements: Complete a mission trip application, complete a survey, complete a 500 word essay describing why they feel God calling them to go, interview with a 5-person council, and complete a community service project.

As I laid out these requirements I could see an obvious widening of the eyes in our students…and I was thankful. These parameters, you see, are not intended to be barriers. Rather, they are intended to help students identify with what Christ may, or may not, be calling them to do. We are striving to push students to a level of excellence commensurate with the high calling Christ calls us to as His children. These parameters raise the level of commitment, desire, and calling while helping students identify the magnitude of each in their desire to participate on this trip.

I hope you’ll join me in finding ways to “raise the bar” of excellence in our commitment to Christ as believers in Him. Although His gift of grace is exactly that, a free gift to us, it didn’t come without the ultimate cost - His death on a cross. His ultimate sacrifice for us is worth our paying attention to excellence in our work for His Kingdom. We will absolutely well represent Him in our ministry and missions both domestically and internationally. He wants our best; let’s offer it to Him with great passion.

Please let me know if there’s anything I can pray about for you or your family.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Nobody Likes Money

Tonight I will be meeting with a group of high school students for 24 hours of prayer and fasting. Together with some of our high school leaders we will be walking through seven spiritual disciplines that Christians should follow. And although giving does not make the list we will be covering, the practice of stewardship is certainly informed by the disciplines we will be discussing.

I think that most of us can get on board with the basic tenets of our faith and agree that the principles found in God’s Word are second to none in guiding our lives. But when we reach the parts of the Bible that talk about money (and there are a LOT of them), the advice doesn’t seem as providential. In fact, it seems to go against every other message in our culture that we receive about money.

Now - DISCLAIMER ALERT - I’m not writing this as a guy who has his J-O-B at a church and therefore needs to drum up revenue. Our church has experienced one of the greatest seasons of giving in its history. Rather, I want to convey that God’s principles and guidance regarding money are just as critical as His teachings about love, commitment, and salvation. 

But having said that, please know that as a minister of the Gospel I wear the responsibility of stewardship differently (I think) than Joe Church Member. You see, since I’m responsible for spending resources that come into God’s house, I feel the need to make sure those monies are spent in ways that honor His Kingdom, broaden the scope and reach of His message, and facilitate spiritual transformation in the lives of individuals and families. That can be challenging since opinions about how those things are accomplished are broad. Yet, still, that’s not where the burden ends for me. I HAVE to be a participant.

I have several things driving me to be a participant in the stewardship of God’s resources. 

1 - It’s a biblical mandate. Just like the other areas that I do my best (and fail miserably sometimes) to follow in God’s Word, money was and is an important part of a Christ follower’s life. It can’t be ignored as a necessary characteristic of a mature or maturing Christian.

2 - It makes me a better manager of money. Setting aside a tithe and/or offering each month in our family budget helps us pay attention to what we are spending. Being disciplined in just this one area of your budget will help drive discipline in other money areas for your family. Hmmmm - makes you wonder how THAT factors into God’s agenda regarding stewardship.

3 - It helps my conscience. There are sooooo many disciplines that I struggle to maintain even though I KNOW they make my life better when I just follow them as God instructed. Being faithful in stewardship is no exception. Yet, if there are things that I choose to give God’s money to that benefit me for entertainment or pleasure, I need to “own” my choice to please me rather than please Him. I have to remind myself sometimes that pleasing Him is for MY benefit - He wants what is BEST for me - that’s why He has given me a guide for how to use my money.

4 - I’m charged with His disbursements. As I mentioned earlier, I’m responsible for spending some of God’s resources on behalf of our church. I could not, in good faith, authorize monies to be distributed if I were not participating in the process. I couldn’t speak to curriculum we purchase, causes we chase, scholarships for students, not even purchasing paper clips - if I was not a willing participant in the stewardship of my own money toward the mission and vision of The Glade Church. 

5 - It’s a measure of trust. It might be tough to admit, but ALL of the resources we have (house, car, job - EVERYTHING) - it ALL belongs to Him already. He’s simply entrusted it to our care for this season. When we are faithful with small things, He can trust us with big things. Just be cautious with this mindset - this is not a promise of prosperity for faithfulness in stewardship. 

6 - It brings me joy. I know some view the attention that we pay to stewardship at different times of the year as an affront. Not me. It makes me mindful of all that He has given me (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) and challenges me to give on a level commensurate with His goodness and grace in my life. It makes me happy to try to give at a challenging level because of all that He has given me. 

So - since we’ve barely scratched the surface of 2014, it’s a great time to take a look at your resources and ask the difficult question about your money: Am I honoring God with what He has entrusted to me? If not, I would challenge you to lay out a plan to get there. Take a 45 day tithing challenge where you give for 6 weeks and reassess at the end of that period. If you feel tithing is too great of a spiritual leap for you right now, start with something. Just make a plan - use Malachi 3:10 to guide you. He will prove faithful - just like He’s already doing in your life in other areas right now!

- Michael