Every student is just one caring adult away from being a success story. This is a slight modification from a Josh Shipp quote about the power of mentoring, but I have seen and I believe in the power that one caring adult can have in the life of a student.
When I was having a difficult time trying to make sense out of the direction of my life and figure out exactly where to go and what to do next, Doug came into my life at just the right time. His ability to make me think and make me laugh transformed the way I connected to God and helped me believe that He had a bigger story in mind for my life.
Doug directed me to study 2 Timothy and showed me his favorite Bible verse:
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7
That verse has been an anchor for my identity in Christ. If I have succeeded in any measure in growing closer Christ and helping others to do the same, it is because of people like Doug who cared enough about me to invest.
Chances are, If you are the parent of a student or know a student, you want them to help them be a success story. The struggle is knowing how to get them there, and how to know you're putting the right things in their path to help them along. What if they were a part of a caring community who could help them as they navigate through their teenage years?
Doug is one of the big reasons that I believe that every student should be in a small group.
Every student needs a "Doug". Every adult can be a "Doug" to someone. Small groups are the context where these meaningful relationships thrive.
Just so we're clear, I'm using the term small group to mean a group of 8-10 students with a couple of leaders that is centered around the Bible and figuring out how to become a follower of God. There are many small group contexts out there, and I believe in the power of most of those as well. But, I talking about specifically my belief in this particular small group context.
Here are 5 reasons that I believe that every student should be in a small group:
1 - More Than A Face In The Crowd
It can become increasingly easy for students to come and go in larger groups without truly connecting with anyone. This certainly has a purpose and a season as a student decides if they're comfortable in a particular group. However, the small group allows for a student to be known and to know a few other people. There is tremendous power in just a couple of friendships to defeat isolation.
2 - Seeing A Mature Christian Leader Up Close And Personal
When students get to see a mature Christian leader up close and truly know their life, they get a picture of what it looks like to own their faith and take it seriously. It's important to note that a leader is not perfect, but they allow even their miscues to be part of the modeling process and a means to help students understand that God doesn't disqualify us because of our mistakes.
3 - Experiencing The Family Of God
These small groups begin to look like another family for students to belong. Not intending to replace a biological family by any means, the small group is a small sample of what belonging to the family of God is all about. It's about being consistent in one another's lives. It's about encouraging each other to pursue God through faith in Jesus Christ. It's about holding one another accountable to put to death sinful activity that creates distance between one another and God.
4 - Taking Steps In Faith
When a student is a part of a small group, they are able to see how they are truly growing in their faith. The leader is able to affirm their growth and challenge them to keep exploring the next steps that they can take in following God to greater depths.
5 - Seeking Refuge When Crisis Happens
There are all kinds of crises. Small crises. Big crises. We don't get to choose when they'll strike our lives and they can lead to ruin. These two verses from Ecclesiastes are among my favorite, and illustrate this beautifully:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Knowing that you have a source of healthy community to turn when your ship capsizes can be the difference between growing in the midst of trials or giving up.
Every student needs to be in a small group. There are so many blessings and benefits to this type of community! As a Student Minister, small groups will always be a huge piece of how we point students to Jesus.
Every adult has incredible potential to invest in the lives of a few students and help them become a success story, just like Doug did for me. By the way, Doug and I have very little in common. He's a St. Louis Cardinal fan for crying out loud! But I admired his faith in God and how he let the Bible guide his life. Don't buy into the life that you have to be a charismatic, attractive leader to connect with students. Authenticity is the trait that wins the day!
What benefits have you experienced from being a part of a small group?
What do you think keeps caring adults from investing in the lives of students?
I go to worship every weekend, but if I’m honest I struggle with “preparing my heart” to worship. I have to guard against church becoming just another thing that I do, rather than I meaningful connection with my Heavenly Father.
I figured that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, so I began a search to see what a more heart-felt approach to going to church would look like.
What does the Bible say about preparation?
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
God instructed Moses to get the Israelites ready to encounter the Lord.
When I go to church, I am doing exactly that, I'm encountering God. I lift up praises to Him, I hear an exhortation from the Bible, I remember Jesus’ sacrifice for sins, I connect to brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
But if I neglect to prepare my heart for what is about to happen, I’m subtlely placing an obstacle of routine between God and myself.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Here is a promise from God to the Israelites at one of their lowest points as a nation. You and I will find God when we seek Him with all our heart.
I’m so busy to prepare for anything!
The other day, I got a text from my friend asking me if I wanted to go to this cajun restaurant in town. We’d been talking about it a couple times, so when sent me the text, I knew it was time to make it happen. I asked him if he wanted to go later that evening or the next night. He and I both made arrangements and we were both mowing down on jumbalaya that evening.
Every week we all have the same ammount of time, 168 hours or 10,080 minutes. And if you’re anything like me, you find yourself incredibly busy moving from one thing to the next and then kind of whirrring down at night only to jump up frantically in the morning and start the whole cycle over again.
If something’s important enough, we’ll find a way to make it happen.
So, here are some ways to prepare your heart to encounter God at church each weekend.
1 - Begin the night before.
When I first began distance running, I was going early in the morning to get my run in for the day. So, the night before I laid out my clothes and I set multiple alarms to remove any obstacle between me and getting up to run.
How can I minimize the decisions that I have to make before I go to church?
2 - Focus on one passage of Scripture.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 139.
I particularly love the last couple verses of the Psalm:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
I also like the Topical Memory System of Bible Verses to focus and study and memorize. These verses focus on the promises of God, the character of God, and our response to God.
What is one passage of Scripture that you can focus on while you get ready to go to church?
3 - Pray seeking prayers.
When I’m praying a “seeking” prayer:
I’m telling God that my heart is open to listen.
I’m asking for forgiveness for anything that I’ve done to run from God in any area of my life.
I’m asking God to open my eyes to see what He will be saying to me while I’m at church.
I’m seeking direction from God for the next week of life and how I can follow Him better.
What will you say to God in prayer to seek Him before going to church?
All together, this process takes probably an hour, but It isn’t done in one time block.
It’s usually 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there.
Also, this is a process that helps me prepare my heart each day. If I forget to do it in the morning, I’ll try to do it on my lunch break, so I’m ready to take on the afternoon. Really, the only way to fail is to do nothing.
So, let’s get started: Pick one scripture and focus on that. Once you’ve picked it out, share it in the comments.
A couple months ago, somebody spoke a truth into my life that caught me completely off-guard. It was flattering, and internally I fought against the validity of the statement. ::Pause:: Why do we do that? Could it possibly be true that there truly are wonderful and redemptive qualities about all of us? Don't discount the fact that you are far more incredible than you care to admit. /Pause.
Fast forward a couple days from this first "truth speaking session" and someone else tells me literally the exact same thing. Now, I need to be careful because I might just start believing that this is true. After all, we have multiple attestation that I act this way.
"You have a peaceful, calming presence."
Erin, if you're reading this, chances are you're laughing in front of your screen...nobody but God knows me better than you. The truth is, I hardly ever feel at peace, in fact, I regularly resonate with these lyrics:
"His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
there's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti.
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready."
Eminem (Lose Yourself)
So, while I'm giving off this peaceful vibe, internally there is a real struggle going on. Yet, it doesn't make the statements made by others toward me less true...and as I began to reflect on their compliment, I began to investigate and see what goes in to "achieving peace".
1 - Feast on God's Truth.
I truly believe that every good and perfect gift come from God. (James 1:17) Therefore, if there is any good in me that is worth recognizing, it's not really me, but it's God shining through.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. Mark 10:18
Even Jesus reflected the praise directed toward Him upward to God. When we feast on God's truth, we see incredible truths about how much God loves us and how we are treasured by Him...yet we remember who is still on Heaven's throne.
Reading Scripture helps us see that God is in control. We can trust Him with our lives because He is faithful. He delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea. He provided for Nehemiah as he rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem. He preserved Daniel under foreign rule. These three instances are just a sliver of God's faithfulness that we see throughout the pages of Scripture.
I have to think, that, if God was faithful in the past, that He is going to be faithful again.
The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk 2:20
2 - Leave Worry At Christ's Feet.
The time that we spend worrying is wasted time. This may sound brutally harsh, but worry only leads away from God's mighty hand. Therefore, to achieve peace, we must regularly bring our worry and leave it at Christ's feet. To borrow a word picture from Rob Bell ::gasp:: it is bringing your baggage and saying, "I'm so tired of carrying this around...here, you take it."
Achieving peace...which is hyperbole, doesn't mean the absence of worry in our lives. It means that we have found a place to leave our worry and we refuse to let it weigh us down. That place is found in Jesus.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
3 - Seek Peace With One Another.
As far as it depends on us, we ought to try and live at peace with one another. But, achieving peace is more than abstaining from conflict or removing grudges...though that's part of it. We can be proactive in seeking peace by sharing the truths that we've been feasting on from Scripture. We can be praying with friends and co-workers who are dealing with difficult circumstances which cause all kinds of worry.
There is a communal aspect to seeking peace with, and for, one another. We can borrow strength and courage to surrender our worries to Christ. We can truly help one another breathe easier.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Honestly, I struggled with even sharing this post, but if it brings a little more peace or completeness into the world...success. If it brings us to the Truth of God's Word and helps us lay our daily worries down...victory!
Peace be with you.
I had a post in mind, but then I got busy and...poof...it vanished. Thankfully, this one is probably better, and I think it is because it is a concept that has been monopolizing my mind for the last 10 days or so.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Sounds pretty awesome, and as I type it, I'm reflecting on how much fun that day was. The odd part about it, though, was that I was experiencing this exciting place all by myself. I did get to catch up with an old friend over lunch, but the majority of my day was comprised of me being that guy that walks around at amusement parks by himself. There were hundreds of people bustling about from one attraction to the next, yet the whole experience made me feel...small.
Isn't it funny how you can be surrounded by people and still feel all alone?
Think about the last time you felt overwhelmed by loneliness. It isn't a fun feeling. Maybe this is the appeal of Social Media, that we can feel connection, albeit digital, in real time almost around the clock. I think it feels good to be known. But being known takes vulnerability and sacrifice and work. Sometimes it's easier to remain anonymous. It's always easier to be a wallflower than to choose to dance and put yourself out there. After all, the wall never rejected anyone.
The fear of rejection is a primal one causing many to shrink back from a life-changing relationship or experience. I'm calling for a new valuation that we put on ourselves and one another. We are FAR more valuable than we know. Why? Because we are known by God, the Creator of all things.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
When we think about God and the vast universe that He created...how can you help from feeling small? The next verses of Psalm 8 tell us that God made us a little lower than angels. Later on in Psalms, this is written about how well God knows us:
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
We are not insignificant; we are divinely hand-stiched. The same hands that formed the heavens and earth, knows us inside and out.
I just thought you'd like to know that you are known.
It might be true that not all readers are leaders...but it seems to be a common denominator that the best leaders are also readers. So, this begins a series of posts that will show up throughout the year to highlight what I'm reading and the insights that I'm receiving as a result.
I'm always looking to "read wide", which means that I'll read things that i don't agree with. It's good to sit with someone who has a different way of thinking and wrestling with their conclusions. That being said, please recommend a book for me to read.
The 38 Page Rule
I would be an all-star reader if every book were 38 pages long. Most are not; therefore I have many books that I have "started" but not many that I have followed through to completion. I'm going to blame it on the author, all of them...because surely it has nothing to do with my lack of discipline.
Nevertheless I'm undeterred and pressing on to read and glean and be a better leader
tomorrow than I am today.
So, here's what I'm reading right now:
God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates For Finding and Focusing
Your Church's Future (By Will Mancini)
This book is challenging my thinking in regards to composing a vision for a church. The leadership in a church must have a vision for what their church is going to be, otherwise the congregation will flounder in ambiguity. What I love about this book is that it is a tool to help church leaders to arrive at their vision and clearly communicate it to others.
My biggest takeaway, so far, is that God's vision for your church will be specific to your church. There is no other church like yours in the whole world. There may be similarities, but the congregational make up of your church is different than all other churches. You may be able to borrow portions of a vision from another church, but wholesale duplication is not the best option.
What are you reading?
Remember the Oregon Trail computer game that you used to play in elementary school on those old Macintosh computers? If you're like me, you don't really know if you ever made it to the end of the trail...because that wasn't really the point. The REAL goal of Oregon Trail in the mind of an elementary-aged boy is how many buffalo can I kill! Halo...Call of Duty...forgettaboutit! We only needed one button to line up the crosshairs and put down those 8-bit beasts.
Once you got past the hunting portion of the game, most of the time leaving meat on the table because you couldn't carry it all with you, you would head out to travel the trail. You could pick which pace you wanted to travel: 1-A Steady Pace 2-A Strenuous Pace 3-A Grueling Pace. It was always tempting fate to travel too long at a Grueling Pace. It wasn't too long until a wheel would break or the inevitable illness would fall upon a member of your family.
Just like it is with Oregon Trail, in life we get to set the pace in which we want to live. We can go at a steady pace, getting things done as they come. We can go at a strenuous pace, making sure that nothing falls through the cracks, always putting our best foot forward. We can go at a grueling pace, sacrificing necessary health measures to try to sustain more demands than any person is meant to try and take on themselves.
Go. Go. Go. Go. Go.
Do. Do. Do. Do. Do.
Make. Make. Make. Make. Make.
Get. Get. Get. Get. Get.
Give. Give. Give. Give. Give.
The thing is about living life at a grueling pace, is that we don't really have to work to get there. Eventually the demands of life will drive us there...if we don't figure out how to say, "no".
Many times we say "yes" with the noblest of intentions. Rationalizing...it's not THAT difficult. It won't take THAT long. It will take LONGER to teach someone else to do it. So we put it on our tab and keep grinding away.
Can We Just Stop For A Minute?
Parents, don't miss this. We are responsible for creating a sustainable rhythm in our homes.
Do we really need to play three sports?
Do we really need to clean everything right away?
Do we really need to keep checking email when we're not at the office?
Listen to Jesus...
"you are worried and upset about many things,
but few things are needed--or indeed only one."
Take some time, early in the morning. Allow this to set the tone for the rest of your day. Be with Jesus. Read from the Bible. Write in a journal. Pray. Spend time at Jesus' feet. Ask Him what should be a part of your schedule.
Author Bob Goff talks about quitting something every week in order to create margin for the most important things to win out.
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” – Bob Goff
Is the pace that you're currently running sustainable?
Oh, I know, it's just for a season, right?
...so why not plan now how you will scale back once this season is finished?
One more thing, the most important thing that you can give to your children is an example of what it looks like to walk with Jesus. His yoke is easy; His burden is light.
There is this verse in Ephesians that has been on my mind a lot this year...here it is:
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,"
This was written by the Apostle Paul to the Christians living in a place called Ephesus. Ephesus was where Paul had started a church. Ephesus was important due to it's geography and it's culture. This verse is part of a powerful prayer, as Paul encourages his readers to live in God's power that is living within them through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a good friend before he leaves town at the end of the month. Don't you love getting together with a friend to have a great conversation? Even though I don't get to connect very often, whenever we get together, the conversation is rich and dives to the depths of what is going on in life.
He told me that he has been captured by the concept of "story" and how our lives tell a story each day. How each day we have the opportunity to introduce new stories into our lives that challenge our imagination and how we see the world. As a new parent himself, he and his wife are seeking stories to share with their children that will inspire their imaginations to grow.
I've been carrying that conversation around with me all week...and it led me back to this verse in Ephesians 3.
God is able to exceed our wildest imaginations. His power at work in our lives is where our existence and his divine plan collide. We are a part of a much, much, much bigger story...oh, and don't get caught up in the outcomes, because Paul addresses that in the very next verse of Ephesians 3:
"to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
Imagine what could happen if we began to embrace God's power at work in our life?
What if now is the time for you to start living a better story?
My one-word for 2016 is "Reach". Reach means to stretch in a specified direction in order to touch or grasp something. In terms of social media, reach indicates the breadth of audience that sees and interacts with a post. Church leaders will think long and hard this year about how to reach their communities with the message of Christ. In order to achieve 'reach' you have to do something. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. You have to be willing to fail. Musicians will tell you that reaching and practicing over and over and over will produce a stretching of your muscles and actually enable you to reach further.
Reach is a word that may lead to rescue.
Reach is a word that promotes intimacy.
Reach is a word that indicates a goal has been completed.
Reach is a word that inspires exploration into the unknown.
Reach is a word that encapsulates the mission of anyone following Christ.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
My hope is to "reach" more in 2016. What is your one-word for 2016?
The ball is about to drop in thirty minutes and I'm staring at a screen reflecting on the year that was. I'm not upset about my lack of plans for this evening. In fact, the blank space on the calendar is the most refreshing sight after hosting our families for the holidays. Family is such a blessing that God has put in our lives to love on our kids and make memories with them.
This year our theme was "endure and explore". Looking back...we made it. There were both personal and professional struggles, but we navigated through them. Endure...check. I branched out into the world of speaking, web design and social media marketing. I've learned a ton this year. It is super fulfilling to see someone sell a product using a website that you helped create. Erin and I joined a new LifeGroup and are now enjoying community here in Indiana like never before. God has answered that prayer in powerful ways. Explore...check.
Twenty-two minutes left now in this year. My heart has been deeply troubled by the global crisis of terrorism. This year has been filled with it. Extremist groups claiming responsibility for chaos and mayhem around the world. It doesn't look like it is going to end any time soon. I pray and trust that God's ways are higher that my ways. I'm thankful for peace that passes understanding because of the Holy Spirit alive inside me.
As the year turns over, we are one year further away from the cross, yet we must run back there. We must make a pilgrimage of the heart back to the foot of the cross and see anew Jesus dying there to forgive us of our sins. He is the Savior of the world, not one agenda. The true agenda belongs to our Holy Father who lives in Heaven. The good news is that anyone who puts their faith in Jesus will never be put to shame. Those who lose their lives for refusing to renounce Christ will not be put to shame.
"I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown."
Thirteen minutes left...I'm going to wrap up this year with Paul's words, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes."
God Bless You...and happy new year!
Something begins happening this time of year to those of us who live in cold weather conditions. From November through March the mercury hardly rises about 45 and the air is biting and dry. Some days it is as if we can feel it deep within our chests. However, it takes a toll on our skin and lips as they become dried out. They begin to crack and even bleed if not treated properly.
I can remember being a kid opening my mouth and feeling the natural split in my lips. OUCH!
Maybe you can relate to this feeling, maybe you cringe at the very thought of it? Maybe this feeling isn't limited to how our body reacts to cold, dry weather? Maybe this is condition also exists within our hearts on a spiritual level?
One of my favorite chapters of the Bible is Psalm 119. It also happens to be the longest chapter in the Scriptures, weighing in at 176 emotion dripping verses. The chapter is broken down into stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. David writes about he delights in the word of the LORD. He has hidden God's word in his heart, so that he might not sin. The word of the Lord is life-giving.
The section of this chapter that has been seared in my mind is a word picture that is painted in the KAPH stanza (verses 81-88). Specifically, verse 83, check it out:
"Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke,
I do not forget you decrees."
Picture a tent, with a small fire to keep the inhabitants warm. The wineskins are strung near the top of the tent where the smoke rises and caresses the wineskins as it departs into the sky. Over time, the heat from the fire and the smoke will dry out the wineskins causing them to crack and render them useless.
Such is the condition of our heart in a season of struggle. When nothing seems to be going right. Yet, the second half of verse 83 provides the hope. "I do not forget your decrees." This is the Psalmist saying, "Even though I'm riding the struggle bus right now...your words preserve me."
When you read the Bible you will be hard-pressed to find a more honest book than Psalms. The wide-range of emotions are covered in these 150 chapters. It's a blessing to all who read it. It is a prayer-filled journey worth taking.
Prayer + Scripture = a conversation with God
Even though, you might be feeling like a wineskin in the smoke right now...find your way back to the Scriptures. As the weather gets colder, fix yourself a warm beverage, open your Bible to the center and begin a journey through the Psalms, you won't be disappointed.