Dreaming During the Day

Today I spent most of the day at a day long seminar called “Get Motivated”. It was an interesting experience. For the most part I walked away very much left unchanged by the morning and having, if I’m completely honest, little to say about it. However, as I reflect back on the day one quote stuck out to me that, in context, had a completely different intention than the direction I am going to take it. I can’t remember the quote verbatim but the core of it was “those who dream during the day change the world.” This idea speaks deeply into what I believe will make up the future of the church. In a world where distractions occupy much of my day I still always find myself drifting off at times in thoughts about the future of my ministry, where I want it to go and what I need to do to take it there. I cherish these moments because they are the driving force behind my desire for ministry.

Potential is what takes things to the next level. Identifying potential in people develops into mentoring which develops them into leaders. Potential in programs and structures leads to effectiveness and vision for the future. Day dreaming has always been portrayed as a negative practice but I believe that these dreams during the day are the birth place of vision and vision leads to change and if properly put into place vision leads to effectiveness. This idea brings up 3 points that I wanted to share with you.

1. If you’re not dreaming you’re not in the right place.

If your current situation, in particular your work environment, does not cause you to dream of the potential in that place, of what it could be then you are probably not in the right place. Apathy within the work place is the death of effectiveness. Not caring about the future and only operating in day to day survival mode probably means that you have checked out and are only where you are for the paycheck. Not only does this do a disservice to the field that you are in but it also does a disservice to you. We should all strive to be in places where we dream about the future, where our creative juices flow and are nurtured both by you and by those you work with and for.

2. If your dreams are not nurtured by your superiors, it’s time to move on.

The stifling of dreams is an attack on creativity and vision. If your dreams and ideas for the future are not listened to, nurtured and, in the appropriate ways, invested in then you need to move on. The setting in which you are in is not conducive to your passion and it is better for you to find a place where you can cultivate your passion than work in a place where you feel oppressed and unsupported.

3. Dreams are only as good as the actions you are willing to take to accomplish them.

Everyone dreams, but not all dreams come to fruition. You cannot sit by and be frustrated by the lack of development of your dreams if you are not taking action to see them come to life. This means learning to cast the vision of what you see, sharing that with others and being open to refining them so that they fit the purpose and goals set forth by your organization. It does not do any good to be frustrated by a lack of passion if you are not putting out the effort to see your dreams come into reality.

These are just a few of the thoughts that have been bouncing around my head today. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


What do you regret?

Every week we look for a “YouTube Clip of the Week” for our Student Ministry. They are usually funny or random videos that just allow for students relax a little bit for the evening. This week while looking for a video I came across this short film. It’s a profound video that asks several people one question.

I’ve always operated in trying not to regret anything as I believe that my past failures, mistakes and successes have made me who I am today. However, this video made me think about what I regret in my life. I would love to hear your input on this video and possibly, if you’re comfortable, what you regret.

What Harold Camping Taught Me About Following Jesus

There has been so much hype lately around Harold Camping and his prediction that the rapture would occur on May 21. Well, May 21 has come and gone and we are all still here. Either the rapture was far smaller than even Camping predicted and the tribulation rings far more of normal every day life than of all out craziness OR it didn’t happen. Now, for anyone who knows me I’m not one who spends a lot of time dwelling on the end of the world or eschatology, in fact I find that it is by far the theological practice that can do the most danger when in reality we are called to make Disciples today so they can follow Jesus today. The present is what I’m concerned about, I’ll let God deal with the end. BUT there were a few things that I learned from Harold Camping and his followers that I wanted to share.

1. Eisegesis leads to neglecting the obvious parts of Scripture.

Most Christians that I know disregarded Camping and his predictions because of what Scripture blatantly says, no one knows when Jesus will return except for the Father. This seems fairly obvious but it wasn’t for Camping. Now, I don’t know his response to that passage however, what I can see in his interpretation was that he became so consumed with what he wanted Scripture to say that he disregarded what Scripture did say. Placing your own interpretation into Scripture is eisegesis and this is what Camping was doing, so much so that it blinded him to what Scripture did say. Exegesis is the practice of taking the meaning from the text rather than placing meaning into it. Exegesis leads to in depth study of original languages, historical and cultural contexts as well as basic literary criticisms. Exegesis is a healthy and necessary practice for studying the Bible, but one must be careful not to confuse the two. Harold Camping taught me to be extra aware of what I’m doing when I’m studying the Bible because otherwise I can look like an idiot. It wasn’t his intent but I’m gonna give him credit anyway.

2. People Don’t Equip Themselves to Study Scripture Enough on Their Own

In #1 I mentioned the practice of exegesis. If the followers of Camping had taken the time to learn to properly study the Bible then they would have been able to not only save themselves humiliation but also vast amounts of resources. (I read one article that mentioned a man who spent 140K on promotions.) Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to learn to study original languages but people need to be willing to look at outside resources from theologians who have studied the historical aspects of Scripture. When doing this they also shouldn’t study only people from their theological tradition but various traditions to get a better scope on their understanding. When we learn to study Scripture we can better way out what is an accurate teaching and when someone has been misguided.

3. It Shouldn’t Take the End of the World to Motivate Us To Be Reconciled To God

The campaign to spread the word of May 21 as the end of the world was to motivate people to repent and turn to God. This type of idea just has bad news written all over it, particularly if it doesn’t happen then people will look at it as a joke and disregard any true teaching that may have been hidden below the wrong teaching. Along with this, people’s motivation to turn to God is simply out of a fear of the end and not out of a sincere embracing of the transforming love of God. Their reaction is out of survival not out of passion or conviction. If it takes us trying to predict the end of the world to motivate and scare people into turning their lives over to God then we are just crappy ambassadors for Christ and need to learn to live as Jesus called us to and to love as Jesus did so that we can actually create devoted followers of Jesus.

Overall, I had a good laugh when thinking about this prediction. It’s not a bad thing to hope for Jesus’ return but I also think that we need to remain in the present to reach people in the here and now. While my hope was that after this weekend Camping may stop trying to predict Christ’s return, I realize that isn’t the case and now the date is for October 21. Well, between now and then I hope that God uses us to reach more people for Him so that they can be a part of God’s advancing Kingdom after October 21 and after December of 2012.

Tattooed Grace*

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of spending in a local tattoo parlor. It was my first time at this shop, and well my first tattoo since leaving my old artist, John, in California. It was a nerve racking situation, to be honest. I have high standards when it comes to the work that I will allow on my arm after all it is permanent. It was a 2 hour job that was filled with pleasant conversation. I was able to share with this artist about my job and why I love Jesus and what He’s about. After the two hours were over my arm was nicely wrapped in saran wrap and tape to control the left over blood that was coming out. I paid the artist and drove home.

It wasn’t until after I got home that I noticed that some of my fears about having a new artist had come true. There were blemishes in my tattoo, nothing drastic but it definitely was not up to the standard that my previous artist had set. I got a little frustrated, it’s permanent!!! I expressed some of my disappointment to my wife and became a little embarrassed about it. But something changed this morning. I looked at my tattoo in a different way when I woke up today. I saw it as one small piece of a larger work that will take place on my arm. It was only a small portion, it didn’t make up the entirety of what will be. And beyond that, I see now that the blemishes are only a small part of the piece that is already there. I smile now, even as I write this. There is beauty in the blemish. This tattoo has significance for me, it always had but now it represents something far more beautiful than I ever intended. I have blemishes in my life. I have made mistakes and they aren’t pretty but thanks to the grace that I received from Christ those blemishes are now lost in the larger picture of who I am in Christ. They are gone. How beautiful to think that they are gone.

My new tattoo now for me represents grace. The blemishes will remind me that I’m not perfect but through Christ I am reconciled and redeemed.

(I cannot take credit for the title of this post, it’s inspired by my friend Kyle Liggitt’s blog of the same title. Tattooed Grace )

Held Captive!

God completely humbled me last night. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t enjoy it at first but once I recognized that it was a healthy lesson I felt a sudden burst of freedom. It was if I had been held captive and all of the sudden the chains were broken, the noose had been loosened and I could breath. I realized I was being held captive by numbers.

I have a healthy ministry at my church. (In large part thanks to amazing volunteers and my boss/co-pastor.) Our students are solid and we’ve experienced tremendous growth over the past year. Tonight, however we were low, I mean really low. It’s not that hard to see why, it was Mother’s Day and the students that were gone were all gone for legitimate reasons but that didn’t prevent the frustration of low numbers from creeping in. Numbers were holding me captive because I was measuring not only the effectiveness of the ministry based on them but also my self-worth as a pastor. I came home feeling ineffective, frustrated and depressed because we had such a poor turnout. But as the night progressed I became relieved, even hopeful. After talking with one of my very good friends and fellow Pastor, in addition to my wife, I found myself back to where I once was not so long ago.

My first ministry out of college was a tiny little church in the Conejo Valley of California. The student ministry was small but that didn’t matter to me. I was excited to work with those students and build relationships. For the short amount of time that I was there the ministry didn’t grow much in the area of numbers but that never affected me. It didn’t have an impact on how I viewed the ministry because relationships were being built and students were encountering Jesus in a fresh way. In that ministry, I didn’t base the success of the ministry on numbers but on whether or not students were hearing about Jesus and building relationships. It wasn’t out of any profound wisdom that I thought this way, more likely out of idealism, but as I look back now I see the wisdom in that mentality. If students are encountering Jesus and growing in relationships with Him, their peers and their leaders then a ministry is successful.  Don’t get me wrong, numbers are great. There is an amazing energy that flows in a room full of students and that energy is an amazing high but it an be disillusioning too. Numbers measure only a portion of a ministry’s success. If students are not encountering Jesus and growing in relationships then it doesn’t matter how large of a group you have, it is a largely ineffective ministry.

It’s freeing to not base your ministry’s worth and success on numbers because it allows you to focus more clearly on the students that are present. This is something that I need to work on but am all the more excited to do so. I will continue to strive to draw students who don’t know Jesus into this ministry but I won’t base it’s success or worth on how many are there. Don’t be consumed by numbers, they are great when you have them but can quickly turn into an idol; an idol that takes the focus off of Jesus and his ministry and onto quantity rather than quality.

Context is everything…well, almost

Whenever I have a discussion with someone about reading the Bible I always emphasize context. The background surrounding a passage of Scripture is vital to understanding what the intended message is for the reader. Not only must one look at the surrounding context within the text but they must also look at the context in regard to the community that was receiving the writings, and the larger context of the authors other works as well. This provides a better understanding of both the author and the recipient.

I have found throughout my experience that context is the most important part of building a successful working ministry. If you, for the sake of this argument, are the author then you have to understand the background of your recipients, those who are receiving your message. While the core idea in the message will never change if you are preaching the Gospel, the way in which you communicate that message will if you want to be successful in reaching people in your area. The most difficult part of being contextual in ministry is shedding the context of your past experiences. We are so often influenced by our own lens, the  way we were reached or the presuppositions we bring into a community often make us too lazy to engage in figuring out the appropriate method for reaching a community. If we want to better reach our surroundings then we must be willing to adapt, willing to shed our preconceived ideas and put in the work to understand the recipients.

There are two big downfalls to contextual ministry that poison our churches today.

1. Personal Preference

Personal preference can damage ministries because personal preferences are selfish. This happens when a pastor enters into a community and expects a community to understand, enjoy, and be affected in the same way as the pastor. This is especially dangerous in cross-cultural settings where there is racial diversity. While there may be limited success at first, if the pastor does not shift from his or her own personal desires eventually people will look for something that they can better relate to. Being a shepherd of people is to be selfless and to do whatever it takes to reach people, therefore we cannot operate with our own personal preferences driving our methodology.

2. The Bandwagon

This is probably the largest obstacle to contextual ministry. There are thousands of churches all over the world doing many different wonderful things. Most of these ministries have put in the legwork to understand their communities and how to reach them effectively. Unfortunately, a large number of pastors look at the success of other ministries and merely try to copy what they are doing. After all if it worked for them then of course it’s going to work for me. The problem is not that pastors utilize the same principals that successful ministries have used but rather that they don’t take the time to adapt those principals to fit their community. For example, Purpose Driven. Saddleback has done a lot of great things under the leadership of Rick Warren and in order to provide resources to others they advertised the Purpose Driven model of ministry. This model worked well for them and has had a positive impact in there community and others. The problem is that many pastors simply copied Saddleback’s methodology and tried to implement in their communities without adapting the strategy to fit their context. The bandwagon approach to ministry is a short cut method to damaging, or at the very least limiting, the potential of a successful ministry.

Context, for me, is a founding principal within my faith. Context in Scriptural study leads to a better understanding of what God wants me to discover. And context within ministry. To better reach people we must understand who they are, where they’ve come from, what their lives consist of and where they desire to go. Once we understand those things then we can create a methodology that will be effective in reaching them for Jesus.

When Grace is too much…

Facebook, Twitter and Blogs have been afire with the recent announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden. As I’ve read through many of the tweets, posts and status updates there has been a world of reactions to the news and to be honest this is probably one of the more difficult announcements to respond to. I have resisted writing anything in regard to the recent events because even as a pacifist I have found myself struggling with my reactions to the news. In spite of all that I have found myself observing many people in heated debates about the Christian response. Some are rejoicing, claiming that God’s righteous judgment was carried out upon this man with a skewed and evil ideology, while others (myself included) have felt a sense of sadness over the loss of a man who never (as far as we know) came into a loving relationship with Jesus.

With the varying reactions what I have noticed is that many people who are in mourning over the death of a man who never knew Jesus are being berated for their extension of brother and sisterly grace. The grace being showed by these people is too much for some. The grace being extended is not salvific divine grace but rather grace from fellow sinners who wish to be an example of how God’s grace can work in the lives of people. It is my belief that these people are showing the world that even those who commit the worst sins according to human standards can be forgiven and that God’s grace, even greater than ours, could have extended to this man. God loved Osama Bin Laden.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. For many the idea of God loving Osama bin Laden is too far. That grace is just too much. The man was too far gone. But the amazing thing is that there is never too much grace.  In his book “Throw It Down” Jud Wilhite wrote that “In refusing grace, I was saying that Jesus was not enough & that his sacrifice needs to be greater.” The same principal applies when we view other people. In viewing someone as too far gone to receive God’s grace we are saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough. I believe that by extending some post-mortem grace to a man who didn’t know the love of Jesus is an appropriate response. It is not saying that his sins were forgiven by God but that we view him as someone who was created in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, yet fallen and in sin. In recognizing him as such we are extending to him something that he really did not deserve and that is what grace is: getting what you don’t deserve. Salvific grace is up to God but our reactions to his death can manifest grace.