Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

Beck Confusion and Living On Principle

beckBeck is a pretty amazing guy. He’s been a performer since the mid-80s and has become a national figure. He has had a hugely successful radio career as well as highly rated shows on CNN and Fox News, and has now started his own tv news station called The Blaze. He has multiple albums on Rolling Stone’s “Top 500 Albums of All Time” list. He is a New York Times Bestselling Author, and has reached #1 on that list in 4 different book categories. He even has 5 Grammy Awards, including 2015 Album of the Year, which is different than Record of the Year somehow.

Wait, what? Those are two different people? Huh…

So Glenn Beck is a pretty controversial guy. A conservative political commentator with strong Libertarian-leaning views, he presents what his radio show calls “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.” I don’t listen to the program regularly, but when I’ve got some time I will tune in. I don’t always agree with him but he often has some insights that I appreciate. His show from Friday (3/6/15) had a clip that got my attention.

National principles. We don’t torture. National principles. We don’t spy on Americans. National principles. Our interests say, “We’ve got to torture.” Our principles say “no.”

While he is talking politics here, I think the distinction between “principles” and “interests” is an important one for of us. What are your guiding principles? What have you chosen as a guiding concept and commitment for your life? If you find yourself acing in a way that is more in line with your interests – what is best for you – than your principles – what you believe to be good and right – you have a problem. We are not called to act in our best interests, we are called to love and serve others.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)

When we live on principle, we sacrifice. We don’t always get what we want or think we deserve. By some standards of success, we fail. However, when we live on principle, we don’t evaluate our lives by money or power or our standing before others, we evaluate our lives based on the love we give and receive and on how God views our lives and our actions. We ask ourselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” Sometimes this is a very complicated question to ask. Sometimes it’s very easy. And often times it is much easier than we want to pretend it is. Usually living on principle means doing things the hard way instead of taking the easy way out.

If we lived on principle, our lives would be more difficult, but they would be more rewarding and more impactful on the world around us. Think about what would happen if our businesses, churches, organizations, and our nation began operating with the conviction that they would do what is right, not just was is easy or profitable? The world would be a very different place.

 

Take a listen to the Glenn Beck Program podcast, available here (quote mentioned here is from “Glenn’s visit to San Fran 3/6/15” and begins around 16:50).

 

Thoughts to drive us – We are little kids and its ok

One afternoon, my four-year-old daughter picked up her mom’s phone and sent me a text message that had about fifteen letter g’s, ten letter l‘s, and twelve letter k‘s in it. it was indistinguishable and garbled. The moment I saw the text, I knew who it was from, and I knew she wanted to send me a text but didn’t know how. I knew my daughter’s voice even though it came through unclear and incoherent. I smiled as I read that incoherent text, and I thought, That’s my little girl. In the same way, God receives our jumbled communication and incoherent self-articulation with a smile and a fatherly embrace. He knows us fully, and even amid what we feel is unclear and confusing, he is seeing us for who we truly are, his beloved children. As those who are in Christ, we are always received by the Father.

-Jamin Goggin, Beloved Dust

We’re In The Cloud!?!?

cloud

Working with youth and young adults for over a decade, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for poor choices. One excuse is repeated far more than any other: you can’t just tell me what I should do, I have to learn it for myself.

It’s a stupid excuse.

It’s also one that I have used myself. A lot of us say something like this, thinking that we hear so many conflicting ideas and different opinions of what we should do that we just can’t trust any of them, even when they come from people we trust. We learn best through experience, so we have to learn what is best through our own personal experiences. In other words, instead of learning from the experiences and stories from others who have made mistakes so that we don’t have to, we are choosing an insane path by repeating those mistakes to see if the same actions will have different consequences. Or, I think more commonly, we are choosing to be lazy. It takes effort and engagement to learn from the past, and generally speaking we have become extraordinarily good at being lazy and avoiding responsibilities.

The writer of the book of Hebrews covers this. He spends an entire chapter (Heb 11), talking about faith and how figures from Old Testament history displayed faith in God’s plan. Each of these individuals proved that trust in God would never be misplaced. The writer then says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1, ESV). We have such a great group of witness, of examples, to learn from and follow that to ignore and not learn from them can only be described as idiotic. Their stories show great and brave decisions that they made and how God took care of them even in the face of adversity, as well as extremely poor decisions that they made repeatedly and the horrible consequences that those decisions brought.

That “cloud of witnesses” does not end with the close of the Old Testament or with the addition of the New Testament. Church history continues these examples of flawed people attempting to follow God and, through good and bad choices, we see stories we can learn from if we choose to throw off the laziness that we so often embrace and live with purpose for God. Augustine, a great thinker and teacher, struggled with sexual temptation and was haunted by decisions he made as a teen. Jerome was a grumpy, argumentative man who was passionate about the Bible. John Wycliffe lacked a sense of humor and had to walk a line of pushing for reform in churches that had become more focused with power and control than with following God, and Wycliffe himself becoming entangled in regional politics. John Wesley was run out of America because of women troubles but used his new circumstances to build a group of passionate Christ followers in England that would become a worldwide movement. The list can go on and on.

And it doesn’t stop with historical figures. We are called to be a part of a church for a reason. Churches are filled with flawed, hypocritical, arrogant human beings just like me who are trying their darndest to be followers of Jesus despite our own sin and the temptations around us. By coming together we can encourage and support each other, which sometimes means giving someone a hug when they’re having a tough time and sometimes mean smacking someone in the back of the head (in love, of course) and telling them they know better. And, if we are brave enough to accept that we can follow Christ alongside people that we don’t completely and totally agree with, we can benefit from an even greater community by coming alongside others in our community beyond the walls of our home church.

This is hard. It means that we have to get over the “I have to learn it myself” mentality and humbly accept that others have something to teach us – and we have to actively look for opportunities to learn from them! We have to get over the laziness that we have all grown accustomed to and learn. If we learn and grow, if we then choose to live life with a purpose beyond our own agenda, God has proven that He will faithfully respond and do amazing things through flawed-but-faithful people. Gideon was short, Moses stuttered, David was an adulterer, Luther was melancholic, and Billy Graham struggled believing the Bible was true. God used groups of young adults to launch the Reformation and The Great Awakening. I pray that we would be humble, willing to learn, and eager to study God’s Word as we seek to be followers of Christ.


This article was first published in the Fairmont Sentinel on February 28th. Check out the Sentinel online.

Thoughts to drive us – Spurgeon isn’t a fish

SpurgeonCharles Haddon Spurgeon was a British 19th century preacher. Known as “The Prince of Preachers,” he is one of the greatest Christian preachers to ever live, having preached to an estimated 10 million people over the course of his life. The following are quotes by Spurgeon from “Look Unto Me,” a collection of Spurgeon devotionals, edited by Jim Reimann.



There is nothing you could want, nothing you could ask for, nothing you could need in all of time or eternity, nothing living or dying, nothing in this world or the next, and nothing now, nothing on resurrection morning, or nothing in heaven that is not contained in this verse – “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”


Trials actually make more room for comfort. Thus, great hearts can only be made great through great troubles.


When we are full, we forget God. Thus, being satisfied with earth, we are content to do without heaven. Rest assured it is harder to know how to be well fed than it is to know how to be hungry due to the intense propensity of our human nature toward pride and forgetfulness of God.


It is one thing to love the ways of the Lord when times are easy but quite another to cling to them during all kinds of discouragements and difficulties.

Grammys and art: Sia-squatch…or Take Off, You Hozier

GRAMMYSThe Grammys were last night. Here’s some highlights:

Pharrell did “Happy” in a weird orchestral setting with a piano player who is famous enough that no one has heard of him and the Pirates of the Caribbean music guy pretending to play guitar.

Beyonce performed a gospel chorus. She sang it once. It took 27 minutes.

Something they called a “Sia” was there. I think it might be related to a sasquatch.

Beck won Album of the Year, which is completely different than the Record of the Year. Obviously.

The big winner of the night was Sam Smith.

I have never heard of Sam Smith.


I didn’t watch the whole thing, and part of the joy of having DVR is that I could zip through the program and get some highlights while my daughter was not-sleeping late last night. I did monitor my Twitter feed, and this caught my eye:

If you’ve never heard or paid attention to the song, it is a musically beautiful piece whose lyrics intentionally demean Christian worship. The focus of the song is on the worship of ourselves and our sexuality instead of the God that created us.

This tweet created a lot of response. Very little was positive. Several individuals pointed out that the author’s intent of the song was to demean Christianity, some seemed to think Acuff didn’t think to look into the song and had just reacted to a catchy tune the first time he had heard it. Acuff interacted with several of respondents and later shared this thought:

As followers of Christ we are called to seek truth. God has revealed Himself to the world in various ways; He has given us His Word as a revelation of His story and nature; the universe proclaims truth of it’s Creator; and we have an opportunity to explore truth and beauty through art. Art is hard to define and comes in an overwhelming assortment of variations and forms. It can be good and bad and it can and often does reveal truth and beauty, all of which gives us a glimpse at the God of all goodness, truth and beauty.

Hozier intended to demean God, but sometimes when we are confronted with evil we get a glimpse of an insight into human nature and sin, and through that insight we see the truth of our savior standing in opposition to evil, and we can be encouraged through that insight.

Acuff looked through an artistic representation of something beautiful but wrong and saw a truth about the one true God. Lets not be so quick to criticize peoples reactions to the world around us and instead look for the different ways God is using the world to share Himself with us.

Thoughts to drive us – We are “but dust”

dustWe are dust – earthy and humble, finite and temporal…We live on borrowed breath. We are alive in the most profound sense of the word – filled with the very breath that spoke creation into being. Within this tension is a status that is regal but lowly, significant but insignificant, unique but ordinary. God looks upon humanity’s frame of dust and says, “I formed you, I love you, and I delight in you.”

We are beloved dust.

Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, Beloved Dust, p 8

Be More Musk-y

Elon_Musk_-_The_Summit_2013My church is currently going through a vision-casting process. The church has been growing steadily for 3 years and has been near-capacity on Sunday mornings for around a year, and the youth and children’s programs have begun to fill the spaces available to them. Some solution needs to be found in order to continue to reach out and minister to our community.

This is the second time I have gone through a visioning process with a church. The first time was when I was on staff as a youth pastor at another church. In both cases there were challenges that needed to be met and it was clear to at least most of the leadership that something needed to be done. However, in both cases and in most similar situations in churches, ministries or businesses, hundreds and/or thousands of hours of work has to be put in to come up with any answers. The first visioning process I was a part of took those hours and translated them into almost no appreciable change to what was already being done. I am far more hopeful that the process I find myself in the middle of now will bring about more effective change.

I have recently been fascinated with the work of an inventor and businessman by the name of Elon Musk. If you do not recognize his name, you will very likely recognize his work. He started his career by creating PayPal, an internet money transfer site that sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion in 2002, just 3 years after Musk started the company. Musk also is a co-founder of Tesla, one of the leading electric car manufacturers in the world – they make electric cars that actually work! Seriously, if you haven’t seen those cars, go check them out!

Recently, Musk has been in the news because of another of his businesses, SpaceX. The company was founded in 2002 and, in 2008, was awarded a $1.6 billion contract from NASA to become the first commercial company to transport equipment to the International Space Station. SpaceX has been continuing to develop better space vehicles, with the goal of continuing to expand space exploration. The next step in development was attempted early this year, when they tried to land a first stage rocket (the part that drives the launch) onto a floating platform in the ocean. Think about that; they believe they can safely land a rocket from space onto a boat! You can read about it here, and check out the first attempt!

They described the first attempt as “50-50 at best,” but they have come up with several ideas to improve chances for their next attempt, coming in the next couple of weeks.

While all of this is happening, Musk has a couple of other little projects up his sleeve. He has proposed what he calls a “hyperloop” from LA to San Francisco; it is an air-powered transportation system that will allow riders to travel 350 miles in around 30 minutes, for cheaper than any other current form of transportation. He has also announced plans to build a “space internet,” a satellite system to not only provide high-speed internet globally but with the purpose of providing communications to a Mars colony that he envisions happening in the next couple of decades; “It will be important for Mars to have a global communications network as well. I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it.” (for more, check out the Bloomberg Businessweek article here)

Musk is 43, and he has accomplished more in the last 6 months than I expect to accomplish in a lifetime. He has accomplished these incredible feats of engineering and vision by dreaming big, aggressively pursuing those dreams and bringing people on board his projects that can help him develop the projects he has envisioned. Technology is jumping by leaps because of the work of Elon Musk.

I am not an engineer. I am not a venture capitalist – that takes money, and I don’t have any. But there are some important lessons that I take away from Musk’s story – dream big and pursue your vision aggressively.

When we think about what God is doing or could do in a church, organization or in our own lives, we often think too small. We serve a big God that wants to do dramatic, amazing things! Through prayer and faith God reveals the pieces of His plan that He wants us to know and pursue. Don’t let “we can’t” or “I’m not sure” or “that just isn’t us” to stop you from following what He has called us to do.

When I launched The Gathering in Fairmont, MN, I told people that our goal was a fundamental transformation of our entire area, and that I believed God wanted to use us to make Fairmont, Martin County and the surrounding communities a light for the Gospel to our entire region. I still believe that is what He wants for our area, and while I still pray for God’s guidance and wisdom, that is the vision that I continue to pursue because I believe that God is big enough to accomplish anything!

“Altar Ego” – Craig Groeschel

AltarEgo

You are not yet who you are supposed to be.

You were made for more than you’ve settled for.

We all self-identify in different ways; if you want to know how you view yourself, think about what your first answers are when someone says, “Tell me about yourself.” We often start those answers with our jobs; that says an awful lot about our priorities, doesn’t it? We might point to our family; “I’m a Whitman.” We might point to interests or activities; “I’m a Vikings fan” or “I’m a Belieber” (note: if this last example is one of your first answers, please contact me; I can help).

In “Altar Ego” Groeschel points out that God has bigger plans for you, and these plans aren’t simply a list of tasks; God wants to transform us into what He has called us to be. Groeschel point to the empty labels that we often use, what God has called us to become, and how that transformation drives us to boldly follow Christ as He has called us, not as our culture or world expects us to.

His chapters on boldness are particularly challenging. As Christians (especially those of us who have been followers of Christ for many years) we often fall into something of a trance; we have low expectations (or no expectations) and we move through our lives without purpose. We need to be regularly challenged to live boldly and unashamedly for Christ.

Boldness is behavior born of belief.

We speak boldly about what we believe deeply.

I believe true obedience overflows from our passion for God, lovingly yielding our decision-making process to him…Bold obedience is rooted in love and allows us to experience God’s presence in a new and very real way.

Sometimes we confuse being bold and being obnoxious. This isn’t what we are is talking about. We are called to live bold lives where we follow Christ’s leading without being held back by the consequences that we will have to deal with – and if we are living as Christ is truly calling us there will be consequences! Are we willing to trust God to guide us and take care of us or will we do our own thing, trying to blend in with our surroundings and not let our faith get noticed.

This is a life-call, a change in perspective that goes beyond a new year’s resolution or a 21-day fast. It’s a lifestyle of worship and service, one that can be incredibly challenging and frustrating, but ultimately a rewarding and fulfilling pursuit because we will be living out what we were made to do. I hope that we are all willing to take this challenge, and as we do we find others with the same conviction that we can lean on for encouragement and support during those times that life gets tough.

One of my mentors told me, “Craig, you’ll very likely overestimate what God wants to do through you in the short run. But you will very likely underestimate what God wants to do through you in the long run.” He nailed it. I was so disappointed because I didn’t see the immediate ministry results that I wanted…I overestimated what I could do in a moment. But I had no idea what God wanted to do through me over a lifetime. Don’t give up. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

“Altar Ego” by Craig Groeschel

Thoughts to drive us – TBH

tbh …I was roused to a desire for wisdom. And here I was, still postponing the abandonment of this world’s happiness to devote myself to the search. For not just the finding alone, but also the bare search for it, ought to have been preferred above the treasures and kingdoms of this world; better than all bodily pleasures, though they were to be had for the taking. But, wretched youth that I was – supremely wretched even in the very outset of my youth – I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.

-Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, book 8