Your Protection is in your Submission

Social media has been a presence, in our lives, for about 12 years now. It wasn’t too long ago we had to go to physical places to have physical conversations with physical people. Does anyone remember when we had to wait for someone? Say goodbye on the telephone? Not know how it might go for a friend until we see them in a week?

I find myself and others always fighting for the upper hand in conversations and relationships. We don’t have to wait a week, say goodbye on the phone, go to physical spaces to have physical conversations with physical people. Now, we just get physical online.

James asks a very relevant question –  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight (James 4:1-2). 

When we fight for the upper hand in conversations, relationships, and online James asks what is going on inside of us? He uses the words “fights” and “quarrels.” These words were actually used to describe two countries fighting during a war. These countries hated each other. James proposes this is the way we feel when we lose the upper-hand. When we are not heard or understood. We have this sense that what we have been holding onto is losing its grip and we no longer have the upper hand.

James continues to write: 

 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:7-8).” 

James describes this evil being as the Devil. The “devil” simply means to throw something through with the intent of dividing something. Does this sound like some social media interaction you’ve seen recently? What has been divided or split in your relationships?

Maybe the very act of wanting to have the upper hand and to win every argument is just arsenal the “devil” uses to divide us. It’s difficult to represent Christ and be a jerk at the same time when we are online. This is why James says we are “double-minded.” We are tied between two things we want – the upper hand and submission to Christ.

James points us to submission was being our protection. To submit yourself to someone, an idea or philosophy is to place yourself under it. You have to law low so that person or idea can be over you protecting you. James seems to say we can’t have it both ways. If we want the upper hand, we have to stand up and make ourselves known. The moment we do this and get into an argument, we forget the comfort of our protection.

To place ourselves in submission to Christ is to have His protection. The Scriptures relentlessly tell us to be still and allow the Lord to fight our battles. That seems so . . . passive. Maybe it’s just obedience.

I love a good heated debated as the next person. May we consider what we let go of the next time we stand up and adamantly attack someone. Our protection is in our submission. 

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4 Ways Evernote allows you to organize, plan ahead, and remember.

A regular discussion I hear in ministry is how much do I put down on paper and how much should I move my tasks to an e-format. Admittedly, I don’t have the answer. I think both can work and certainly, a mixture of both can work.

This post is for the following person: 

  • A person who is on a team that currently doesn’t have an e-format for sharing information.
  • A person who is constantly frustrated by wondering where they wrote down that important note or task and can’t find it.
  • Someone who is more people oriented and finds themselves kicking themselves because they can’t remember when that event was occurring or maybe missed that important coffee meeting.

Here are a few reasons why I’ve shifted 90% of my work tasks and meetings to Evernote: 

  1. Evernote brings a team together. 

Evernote affords you the ability to allow as many people on your team to see what you’re discussing and to keep team members on task with responsibilities and responsibilities. Notes can be created, shared, and updated throughout the week so everyone knows how the team is making progress. This allows those weekly meetings to be check-in meetings vs long and arduous.

In my current position, I lead 4 teams that are all volunteer lead. On those teams, there are 3 key leaders per team. We all worked together to create an Evernote note. It’s the same 5-7 questions they ask their team every month. This allows them to lead their team and for me to touch base should the team need anything. I can be at the meeting without being in the meeting thanks to the shared note feature on Evernote. This is a game changer for large amounts of communication with volunteer lead ministry teams.

2. Notebook and Notebook Stacks Stacks 

Evernote allows you to create a “Notebook.” Think 90’s Trapper Keeper. All of your notes can fit into a “Notebook.” For Example, I have:

“Sunday Morning” Notebook Stack  

  • Notebook for Hosting Services in 2018
  • Offering Talks
  • Sunday Morning Review
  • Weekend Announcements

“Campus Planning” Notebook Stack

  • Campus Planning for the year
  • Ministry Team planning for the year
  • Pastoral Care
  • Quarterly Review

3. Give yourself permission to forget. – Set reminders! 

Evernote allows you to set reminders on any note. This is great for tasks for individual and team tasks. This also allows you to not forget following up with someone even if what needs following up is several weeks away. Every note has a clock icon you can click on and then tell that note what day and time you want to follow up with that note/task/person. You will get a notification on your app as well as an email when you. This is great for Pastoral Care.

4. Tagging 

Evernote allows you to come up with as many tags as you want for every note. You have the option to look at all of your tags that can bring multiple notes under one theme. This is great for sermon prep, creative meetings, year-long planning. Any tag/keyword or phrase can be used to jog your memory.

5. Evernote Clip 

If you purchase the “premium” or year-long subscription you will get access to “Clip.” This is an icon in your web browser. As you are searching for content and see something you like, click the “Clip” icon. Take a screenshot of your content and then it will let you chose what notebook to drop your screenshot into.

Evernote Templates I use every week: 

3 ways to be generous with your tax return

Who doesn’t love getting a tax return? Kids may think that their Santa wears a red coat, but we know that Santa wears a green one for the adults. It’s always fun and exciting to know that you are getting a little cash thrown back your way. Maybe it’s the one time of year where you splurge on yourself or do something spontaneous with your family.

What’s the best way to generous with your tax return?

This is an ancient prayer worth considering when your tax return hits your bank and or anytime you decide what to do with your money:

“Two things I ask of you, Lorddo not refuse me before I die:  Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

_ Proverbs 30:7-9 

I love the brutal honesty of this ancient prayer. “God, Don’t give me to little. If you do, I’m going to have to rob a grocery store to feed my family. God, Don’t give me to much because then I’m going to forget about you and trust what I can see or what is in my bank account. God, please just give me my daily bread. Let me be generous with what I have.”

When our financial behaviors are healthy and disciplined it won’t matter how much or little wealth flows through our hands. We will be generous with our  finances.

  1. Generosity allows for a wider margin to fulfill more of the mission.

Your tax return is a great way to give you or your family the margin to do things that might fill them up. Yes, It’s ok to allow yourself margin to do things that fill you up or provide your family with a unique experience. We all have preferred futures in our marriages, parenting, careers, etc. Give yourself permission to do things that fill you up and fulfill the purpose of your life or whatever the end game is for you, you family, etc.

If you attend a church, I would encourage you to think about giving a portion of your tax return as a financial gift. Again, If you love your church and believe in what they are up too, generosity allows them to fulfill more their mission and purpose. This is something that my wife and I have never really discussed until this year. We are grateful that we did. We would typically use it for Fun, Savings, and debt. That’s ok, but I think there is more going on then what is in my families immediate reality.

2. The behavior of generosity is more important than the amount of generosity. 

As previously stated, if we do not have the behavior of healthy finances a tax return can be overwhelming. We may not know what do with it. As I read the Gospels (The stories about Jesus), It seems like Jesus is less concerned with the amount of the gift and more important with behavior of the gift. He loved when people were willing to give generously. I think maybe because hidden things were becoming seen things when they have – love, trust, and faithfulness.

It can seem overwhelming to think about giving to your church, paying down debt, putting money in savings. The amount with which you do it is not as important than the fact that you actually do it. As the behavior matures, grows, and strengthens, the amounts in all of those areas will increase. I’ve seen it so many times.

3. An amount of money does not always equal generosity.

There are countless Jesus stories when people would give less than others (like the rich religious elite) and Jesus would say things like, “The one who gave least is the most generous.” That doesn’t financially add up in our world.

I think Jesus was saying that if our heart is in the right place any amount can be considered generous. The little amount that was giving was from a larger percentage of that person’s income. The religious rich elite were giving much more but also at a much small percentage of their income. From the percentage they were given, Jesus deemed them not to be generous because their “Generosity” wasn’t from the heart and it really didn’t cost them.

Big or small find a way to bless someone with your tax return this year. Everyone knows someone in need. Make it a party or do it anonymously. I would encourage you to find a way to bless someone this year. Followers of Jesus were known as blessing machines.

We work to hard to not save, pay down debt, invest, and be generous. I want to encourage you to find ways to be a blessing with you tax return this year. Who knows what might happen.

church is full of hypocrites

“I don’t need to go to church. It’s full of hypocrites. You can’t trust anyone. I’m fine with my own personal relationship with God.”

I can’t tell you how many times in the last 11 years of ministry I have heard that statement. It’s been said in many different forms and in my different ways. The truth still remains. Church is full of hypocrites. How could any church be as pure as the God they worship?

Those “hypocrites” who go to church feel the same way. They wonder how in the world will God love, forgive, or even hear their worship when they just went off on their family this week.

Yes. The church is full of hypocrites. It’s been proven by the accusers and those who attend a worship service. Everyone feels like they don’t measure up or the preacher is forced to say things like, “God loves you anyway.” We don’t really believe that because of how inconsistent we are.

How can a room full of hypocrites worship a Holy God and not be struck down Old Testament style?

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

_ Isaiah 6:5-8

Isaiah feels like most Christians on any given weekend in any given worship service. When we hear about how big, good, holy, and mighty God is . . . who are we? If God holds all things together, why doesn’t He crush us for our wicked inconsistencies?

The beauty of the answer is in vs 7. This angel places a live coal on his hand. This coal came from the altar. What’s the purpose of an alter? It’s to make sacrifice for forgiveness of sin.

How does this relate to Christians today?

When Jesus sheds his blood on the cross it’s as if that blood is touching our lips while we are moving our mouth in worship. Even though we have hypocritical, stubborn, wicked hearts – the lyrics are being purified from our heart to God’s ear. God doesn’t hear any static, lost connection, or white noise. He hears our words through his filter of love and holiness | Justice and Grace.

How then should hypocrites worship?

1. You are always a theologian

There is never a time in your life where you are not doing theology. When you sing, you are doing part of the preaching. I bet you never thought of yourself as a preacher during worship. Even if you’re not sure if you believe what you’re singing, sing. Even if you feel like you are one major life change away from leaving the church, sing. Even if you have experienced the closeness of God and are more alive than ever, sing. Sing.

2. Sing loud your theology

Every time you sing, you are making a statement about who Jesus is. The fact that you are opening your mouth and words are coming out is a statement you are making about the person and work of Christ. Pitch and tone are not the measures. In the same way knowing Greek or Hebrew are not the measures to actually sitting down to read God’s word.

3. Drink your theology

Every time your church celebrates communion, know that the grape juice that washes over your lips represents the blood that has washed away your sin. Before Jesus tells you what to do He reminds you of who you are – HOLY.

A Beautiful Partnership

Every August I begin feeling a little nostalgic. 9.5 years of my ministry career was spent serving middle school and high school students in student ministry. August was exciting! Families were coming back from vacation. Our Fall retreat was just a few weeks away and small groups would begin.

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Towards the end of my time in student ministry, I noticed a shift. Maybe the shift existed well before I discovered it. Student Ministry shifted from something parents regularly supported – students were always involved in their church’s student ministry to family discussions of – “Can we fit this into our schedule?”

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Families are busier than ever. Overall church attendance has dropped from 3 weekends a month to about 2 weekends a month. This is descriptive of what churches would call “Core” or “Committed” families. There are more options than ever for students to experience life during those middle school and high school years.

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Parents – I would like for you to consider the benefits of partnering with your student ministry as a new school year begins.

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  1. Every Parent needs to expand their circle of influence. 
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A lot of parents mistake student ministry for another “church lesson.” I’ve heard parents tell me and other student ministry friends – “My kid isn’t getting anything out of our student ministry.” They are not gaining any head knowledge about the Bible or Jesus.

Hosea 4:6 – My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. 
 
The point of student ministry isn’t to make your students smarter. It’s to help your students follow Jesus and navigate life. You can be incredibly intelligent and have no clue of what it means to be human and or navigate life.
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When parents expand their circle of influence they are allowing students to get to know other healthy & mature adults that will speak into their life. When I first began student ministry, the big question centered around why students are leaving their faith. Study after study, that I’ve seen, indicates students walk away from their faith because they do not have 3-7 other healthy adults speaking into their life. Parents – You can speak into this!
 
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  1. Students are experience rich, but relationally poor.
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I get the old adage that says, “I just want to give you more than what my parents gave me.” It’s noble. Students have access to more places, ideas, and information than you parents. The car is no longer a symbol of freedom. It’s the smart phone.
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There’s an actual shift of older millennials that are spending less money on stuff and more money on experiences. They are buying properties with smaller yards. I think it’s because feeling alive is more important than feeling rich.
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I loved that the students, whom I served, were able to experience incredible vacations with you and receive killer presents from you at Christmas. I’m not going to lie. I’m slightly jealous.
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However, the benefit that a student ministry affords your students is that they have opportunities to develop deep friendships. This is nothing special. They can get this at school, work, etc. Watching my friends burdened by their sin, at 17, repenting, finding love and community in our student ministry – that’s stuff I’ll never forget. You can’t pay for that experience. You can’t wrap that up in a Christmas present.
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The first time I was called out on my sin was when I was in student ministry. The first time I was out of line with another friend and had to learn to reconcile that relationship and was learning the bigger picture of reconciliation – I was in student ministry.

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  1. Students need to feel the burden and joy of leadership.
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Pastoring people is wildly different than your student leading a student council, basketball team, or a debate team. When your student steps into student leadership, they get to see first hand what it looks like to lead, navigate, and pastor the human heart. Your student leader now could be a church elder, pastor, leader of their church when they are in their 30’s. The possibilities are endless.
 
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My passion and burden for people who do not yet follow Jesus comes from my student ministry days. I don’t know how strong that burden would be had I not been part of a student ministry that allowed me to be a student leader, play music in the student band, preach, lead retreats, and throw dodgeball’s, at middle schooler’s heads. It was a blast.
 
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Christian leadership is unlike any other kind of leader. It’s upside down leadership. It puts your future student’s employees ahead of themselves. It teaches them to care more about team culture than always crushing whatever future sales goal they might have. Student ministry gives them this opportunity.
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  1. Your student ministry should partner with vs in replace of. 
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Your student pastor should have the view that a student ministry exists to come along side of you and not replace you. Parents will always have more time with their student than any student ministry. Parents are the spiritual champions in their kids lives. Student ministries get to partner with you and not replace you.
 
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Parents need student pastors and adult leaders who are willing to reinforce what is being said at home. The oldest trick in the book is for students to ask their student pastor what they think about an incident at home and hope the student pastor agrees with him. It always makes me laugh when students are stunned by the fact that maybe their parents have a good point and maybe it might be worth listening to them. This happens when parents value student ministry and make it a priority. Soul care is critical piece to a student’s development.
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Parents will want other adults crying as hard as they will cry at graduation. One of the most incredible experiences I had, in student ministry, was graduation day. I watched parents and small groups leaders, who walked with that students from middle school to high school, cry just as hard as the parents. Why? When parents partner with the church there’s an experience that stays with students, parents, and leaders throughout the rest of their lives.

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Final Thought

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Parents – You have been given the awesome responsibility to parent, lead, and guide your teen. The beauty of your local church is this – you don’t have do it alone.

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Student pastors won’t be there for every life event. You get to be! While your student is in middle school and high school, a beautiful partnership can form the heart of your student.

When a city will listen

I have noticed a narrative. This narrative tells a story that says it’s characters can only succeed if the storytelling is in their control. I’ve watched well intentioned friends and strangers wonder about the state of the church in a climate that lingers more and more to the European side of story telling.

What has always fascinated me is how churches grow and thrive in places they shouldn’t grow. It’s this notion that the Holy Spirit can have His influence in the Bible, but we have stats and proof of concept to lean towards we don’t need him here. It somehow surprises churches when they hear of other churches growing in “difficult” areas of the country or the world. This is often viewed through the lens of , how can a church grow when it’s not in state/ country that doesn’t honor the “Golden Rule” ways of living.

It has always been my heart and belief that the church should engage with culture. Is this not what Jesus did that first Christmas? It’s almost as churches take this “What can we do to get people here approach”. That model has churches bending on their beliefs or leaning toward culture wanting to be accepted, like an awkward student at a middle school dance.

Let’s talk about simple steps churches can take to BE INVITED to speak into a city:

Acknowledge every city carries with it some level of interest in spirituality. 

Can we all agree that social media attacks on culture are the least effective, if not most immature way of interacting with each other?

When the Apostle Paul (Church Planter, Leader, and the Bible version of Church Norris) went into cities to plant churches or preach, he never went into a city ready to crush them in an argument. When he visited Athens (Acts 17), the text reads that he was greatly distressed by the the idols he saw.

He didn’t immediately write back to his supporters, “There’s no way we can start a church here, other religions got here before us. It will never work.” Instead, Paul was taking field notes.

Affirm that a city wants to connect with a god.

Later in the text, Paul began to reason with the city officials and citizens. There was even a statue or god to the “Unknown god.” They wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any gods or make a god angry with them.

Paul begins to talk about how this unknown god is different from the gods they worshiped. This god was Jesus. Jesus was the God of everything we experience in this life.

I love this piece to the conversation:

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._  Acts 17:27

I don’t know a more powerful verse that communicates God’s heart for a city and its people. Sometimes a city might not invite us to speak if we don’t take time to hear their perspective.

Now, more than ever, I’m finding more and more people are open to spiritual conversations not necessarily debates. If the church is willing to listen and then respond, we might be invited to speak.

A city invites a church back to hear more about Jesus.

The jury will always be out on Jesus. I’m not sure if that will ever go away. If the Scriptures are true and we are in spiritual battle, I’m sure the opposition would love us to hold hands with many different religions and ideas.

Throughout the first century church, people were always interested in hearing more and more about Jesus. The interest in church practices, doctrinal positions, and denomination preferences were secondary to who in the world is this Jesus, and why is he better than any other god to worship.

 

What our eyes say about life and leadership

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

_ Jesus | Matthew 6:22-23

A few days ago I came across this text. I’ve read it many times before and never really thought much about it. Then I did some digging. Jesus seems to be saying something about the kinds of people we can be. In this text, who we are becoming comes down to our eye sight.

Jesus’ audience believed that the eyes determined someone’s generosity and how they lived their life. Someone was thought to have “good eyes” if they recognized someone in need, were financially generous, and or practiced hospitality.

If someone were thought to have “bad eyes” this person would turn away from someone in need, hold tight to their resources, and live as the King/Queen of their own world. This person a little to no depth perception.

1. Keeping the light on allows us to have better depth perception. 

This helps me understand leaders like Pharaoh. I always wondered why he wouldn’t let the Israelites go. You would think after plague 5 he would give in. Sometimes, I think, people who have “bad eyes” have lived in the dark, for so long, they can’t find the light switch. It’s not like Pharaoh wouldn’t change his “eyes” – he couldn’t. When we are not living out of generosity, love, and or peace it limits our depth perception. We can’t and don’t want to see what might happen if we saw someone else’s perspective or even come to the reality that life and leadership is this eb and flow of coming and going ideas.

2. People who have “good eyes” see creativity. 

Admittedly, I have been the person with “bad eyes” more than i can count. No, I didn’t want to turn the lights on. Yes, I wanted to remain in darkness. To turn on the lights, might mean I could be wrong. There is a not a self-confidence that comes with “good eyes” but a confidence, in Jesus, who makes this claim. People want peace, but they don’t want turn the lights on. There’s an addicting, self-loathing comfort to staying in the dark. There is never one way to approach life, solve a problem, or grow something. However, if we keep the lights off, we think there is only one way to do life. As it turns out, it’s out way. Like a dark house, people who have “bad eyes” are unapproachable to others and themselves.

3. Having “Good Eyes” has nothing to do with theology and everything with spiritual formation. 

This text is actually a conversation about the whole person. Yes, theology is important. However, I’m talking about a theology that allows us to be lead by the Sprit and not moral. It is more dangerous and humbling to be lead by the Spirit than to follow the rules. When Jesus says people, who have “bad eyes,” are full of darkness – Does that mean sin? It might. It might also mean attending a church, hearing sermons, and singing songs, might be “enough” for them. The working out of why their “House” is dark, may not be a conversation that person wants to have. I think life is annoying conversation to leaving our house light on or wait in darkness.