Being Right AND Ruthless

I've got a new post up over at Groundswell that outlines the main points of the bombshell that Kevin Myers recently dropped at Wesleyan General Conference.
Kevin’s message had a very prophetic tone to it. As the pastor of the largest Wesleyan Church in the United States  (and one of the fastest growing of any denomination), perhaps no one else could have given such a challenge. And he ended by revealing that 12Stone is putting their money where his mouth is — they are beginning a new “residency-internship” program, recording it, and giving it away to churches who will join them in their ruthless pursuit. What is your primary response to Dr. Myers’ message? Does it make you hopeful? Encouraged? Angry? Confused?
 Read the entire post and weigh in on your thoughts here.


Denominational Fences

My first post over at Groundswell is now posted.
Here's a preview:

There are many conversations happening all over our denomination that deal with either deconstructing or protecting “fences” (fueled by Groundswell? There’s that gasoline bucket for ya!). For instance, in Memorial #52, one of the “fences” that people seem to be trying to keep up is a particular hermeneutic. Many perceive the addition of allowing divorce in the case of domestic violence to be “extra-biblical.” A vote to approve Memorial #52 is a vote to tear down a long established standard, or “fence,” of biblical authority.
Regardless of our view on 52 or any other denominational matter, Chesterton’s words should cause us to pause and ask: “Why was this fence built in the first place? What were those before us trying to protect? Or construct?”

What fences have you personally witnessed the demolition of? What fences do you think will be the big ones to come down in the near future?  Add your voice to the discussion and get in on the Groundswell!


Why Jonny Picks Football Over Youth Group

It's become a habit of mine to sneak away for a private retreat at a local monastery the week before summer youth camp. I need the time. I need the space. Or perhaps less spiritual but just as true, in youth ministry, maybe I just need the silence for a change. I need these retreats to re-tune my heart to God's will and refocus my life's calling. I can get so busy "doing" things for God that I forget to just "be" with Him.  When I feel like I'm drifting from my first love, I go to Mount Angel Abbey and get my monk on.

With camp only a few days away, I use a significant chunk of the retreat to pray by name for every student and leader who will be making the winding trip to Estacada, Oregon with our church. Summer camps have always been huge in my own spiritual journey. It was at a summer "camp" that I fully surrendered my life to Christ (I use quotations because my "camp" involved staying in air conditioned dorms and going putt putt golfing). And it was at that same camp a few years later that I first felt God's tug on my heart to enter into pastoral ministry.

So here I am, basking in the solitude of this Benedictine monastery, soaking in the Scriptures (Ezekiel this time around), and praying hard for our 33 students and 6 leaders who will experience camp together... and the text message comes in ...

(Don't judge me -- I normally turn my phone off or don't even take it on such retreats, but with my wife 8 months pregnant with our first child, I thought it would be wise).
"Mike, I'm really sorry. But I can't go to camp. It was a really hard decision, but my softball team has a game. And I have to be there to support my team, because several players are hurt and..."
Uh...God...that's not exactly along the lines of what I've been asking You for these past few hours.

Immediately, my mind went on the attack: "Why can't these students show the kind of dedication to youth group that they show to sportsl!?" "Why do church activities  always have to take a backseat to track, Little League, or __________!?" Every youth pastor I've talked to has run into the "youth group vs. sports" dilemma. It can be maddening when you're scheduling events or counting on particular students and parents to commit. There is a legitimate place to challenge the idol of "student"  athletics in our culture. Rarely does the current system have the holistic well-being of our teens in mind.

But God's Spirit checked me this time. Am I upset because this or that student is missing out on a golden opportunity to grow in their faith? Or am I mad because their lack of attendance might make this event less "successful" (or "my job" less secure)? Is my anger righteous? Or is it just selfishness masked as holy indignation?

Maybe instead of always railing against what has become of high school sports, maybe we should ask why these students gravitate more towards sports than our small group programming? Put another way, what does student athletics offer this student that our youth ministry is weak at, or worse yet, is completely missing? On that note, I offer you: 

Ten Reasons Jonny Picks Football Over Youth Group...
  1. Because Gatorade is so much better than Dr. Thunder or Tang.
  2. The football coach expects a lot from him and openly challenges him. The youth pastor is just happy if he shows up and doesn't cuss too much or flirt with the middle school girls.
  3. On the football field, after getting smashed to the ground, Jonny's teammates pick him up. After openly admitting his struggles with sin, Jonny's small group pushes him further down with their awkward silence.
  4. Football offers a clear goal and strategies of how to get there. Youth group seems chaotic and unfocused. What exactly are we doing here anyway?
  5. There are always new plays to be learned at football practice. On Wednesday nights,  the topics are too simple and overplayed.
  6. Jonny can work his way up to positions of leadership on the football team. He started as a reserve cornerback and is now starting wide receiver. At youth group, the same 3 or 4 students (or families) get all the leadership opportunities. It's unclear how someone gets involved or progresses.
  7. Football requires sacrifice for a common goal. Youth group offers pizza, games, and a 10 minute lesson all about "my relationship" with God.
  8. When he scores a touchdown, the whole stands erupt. When he takes a significant step forward in the Christian faith, he gets a "thanks for worshipping with us" card.
  9. At football camp, Jonny is surrounded by strong men he longs to be like. At church, all Jonny sees are old women and little kids. 
  10. On the football team, Jonny finds acceptance and a sense of belonging. At youth group, he finds condemnation and isolation. 
What would you add to the list?

And if you were making a list of all the things Jonny could get from being a part of the student ministries at your church that he couldn't get from football, what would be on it?


2012 Cascade High School Baccalaureate Address

May 20, 2012 – Turner Christian Church

When I was approached to speak at this year’s Baccalaureate service, my first reaction was: “Wow, what an honor!” My second reaction was: “What the heck is a baccalaureate?” 
So I did what all good seekers of knowledge do…what no doubt, I’m sure most of you have done to have gotten to this point in your academic career… I turned to Wikipedia.

It was there that I discovered that Baccalaureate addresses can range in length from under half an hour to as long as four hours.
·      Are you kidding me? If I keep you stuffed inside this church for more than 30 minutes, you might bring back the ancient practice of stoning.
·      If I learned anything from my two years of living in Oregon, it’s that when the sun is shining, you have to take advantage of it.  So I promise not to be on the longer end of that spectrum.

But as I continued to read, the pressure of just what this occasion represents began to mount. I began to get really nervous.
·      I thought: “This is a big occasion…what should I say? Or maybe more importantly, what shouldn’t I say?”
·      My testosterone left me for a minute as I even wondered “What should I wear?” Luckily, I have a wife to help me with that last one.

But all the pressure subsided when I came upon this little nugget of history:
Wikipedia states: “The baccalaureate service is believed to have originated at the University of Oxford in 1432 when each bachelor [that’s you] was required to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his or her final academic requirements. “
·      How’s that for pressure? In the original setup, you would be the ones standing up here, preaching in Latin! And if you didn’t do so hot, you didn’t get a diploma. Anybody vote to bring that practice back? That’s rough.

I guess I feel pressured because it’s generally supposed that the person you come and hear speak at this kind of gathering has something to say – some lofty wisdom to pass on or a big idea to share.

I know of all kinds of things I could say, but probably shouldn’t…
A recent Wall Street Journal article was entitled “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You.” Among the words of wisdom rarely shared at graduation ceremonies was…
A.     Don’t try to be great; just don’t make the world worse…
B.     Marry Someone Smarter than You…
C.     Time spent in fraternity basements is time well spent

I’m afraid what I have to share today might fall into that “things most commencement speakers won’t tell you”  category. 
Your life doesn’t belong to you.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says  19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Paul’s argument for why the people of Corinth shouldn’t engage in sexual sin is because their bodies don’t belong only to them – they also belong to God. They were not born and designed for absolute independence…they were created dependent on God…a God who loves them so much that He would rescue them from their failures at the price of giving up His own beloved Son…

You are not your own…you were bought at a price.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:15 that Jesus “died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

As you head off to college, or into the workforce, and are asking yourself: “What should I study? What should I major in?” Or “What should I do? What kind of job field should I get into?” Who should I marry? What kind of activities should I be involved in? – REMEMBER, you are not your own; you belong to God.

To borrow some terminology from sports – you are not an unrestricted “free agent” on the open market.  Those who have chosen to follow Christ have joine God’s team. That’s one thing that our baptism signifies – it’s a symbol of our dying to self and our living in Christ.
·      That’s why in a lot of traditions, last names are not used in baptism ceremonies – at your baptism, you are given a new a new identity.  It’s like when being the moment in the NFL draft where the player takes the stage and puts on his new team’s hat and jersey.
·      God has drafted you.  You are no longer a free agent, you belong to the family of God. You bear His name now.

In the book The Me I want To Be, pastor John Ortberg writes: “Your life is not your project; your life is God’s project…Only God knows what your full potential is, and God is more concerned with you reaching that potential than you are, and God is guiding that process all the time.”

Your life is not your project; your life is God’s project.

On the one hand, there’s tremendous challenge in that statement:

If my life is God’s project, that means that I can’t just do whatever I want, whatever makes me happy.  There is too much at stake for that…
a.     If my life is God’s project, I’ll have to constantly discern whether or not I’m making God-honoring choices with how I spent my time and the dreams I choose to chase.
b.     I’ll have to make sure my friendships and dating relationships ultimately bring me closer to Him rather pushing me away.
c.      I should choose a college, a field of study, or a profession – not based on whether it makes me rich, gives me power in the world, or makes my parents happy --  but based on God’s dream for my life and His world.
d.     If my life is God’s project, and not just my own.... that means that not only will I make choices and conduct my life in a way that demonstrates my love for Him – but I’ll also conduct my life in a way that shows love for my neighbor… for God’s plan always includes blessing the rest of the world.

In God’s dream for your life, your success is always a “so that” kind of deal.  God blesses you “so that” you can bless others. God comforts you “so that” you will comfort others. God brings success in your life “so that” you can cultivate success in others.
·       Ironically, becoming all that you can be will never happen if you spend your whole life focused on yourself. You have been given life so that you can give life to others.

In a culture that is always pushing you to be self-sufficient, self-pleasing, and self-determining, living your life as God’s project can be quite challenging.

But on the other hand, there is some great comfort in realizing that my life is not my own project, but God’s.

If my life is God’s project, that means that I’m not the only one pulling the weight of responsibility for where my life is headed. It means that the Creator of the universe has a vested interested in how my life turns out….and as long as we’re open to His influence, He’ll stop at nothing to help us reach our full potential in His kingdom.

That should give us all a big sight of relief.  The pressure "to make something of myself" is not entirely on my shoulders. I’m not the only one steering this ship.

Ortberg writes: “Only God knows what your full potential is, and God is more concerned with you reaching that potential than you are, and God is guiding that process all the time.”

So even in your worst moments…when you’re working a job that seems to be “getting you no where”...when you’ve changed your major 15 times and still aren’t sure what to do with your life….when you’ve hurt friends and even family members over the decision to follow God’s dream instead of theirs – God is with you. God is for you. You were bought at too high a price for God to give up on you.

The truth is, who you are at 18 is not who you will be when you are 22, 32, or 62. Career plans constantly shift, friend circles grow and shrink, commitments change, and beliefs reform.

But you will always belong to God.

Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we are God’s handiwork, created to do things that He has prepared ahead of time for us to do.

So live accordingly.
Pursue God’s dream more than your own and you’ll end up finding both.


Indiana Wesleyan Enshrines Kirk Cameron as "World Changer"

Kirk Cameron has been selected by Indiana Wesleyan as the 2012 inductee to The Society of World Changers.

I think my Alma mater has lost it.

"Mr. Cameron is blessed with a God-given charisma," said Dr. Keith Newman, IWU Executive Vice President. "That word, charisma, actually means 'gift of grace' in Greek. Mr. Cameron's ability to connect with total strangers is a priceless gift for a Christian seeking to acquaint people with God's grace."

Seriously? Have they ever watched how Cameron goes about introducing people to this gift of "grace?" It's not exactly...how should I say it... graceful.

Did those responsible for this decision (which no doubt was made prior to Mr. Cameron's much bally-hooed interview with Piers Morgan) ask for any feedback from the faculty of the Religion or Science Departments at IWU? Knowing man of them personally, I can't imagine that they would have endorsed the idea. Not only is the man more well-known for his recent turn to fundamentalism than his acting career, but his naive Creationist apologetics have largely been dismissed by Christian and atheists scientists alike. The late Robert Briner, whose book sparked the idea to create The Society of World Changers, must be rolling over in his grave.

There is a petition making the rounds. As of this writing, it had been signed by 265 concerned alumni, faculty, pastors, and friends of IWU. Late to the game, I was number 155: