Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vision Revealed

We have been frequently dialoguing as a staff about the direction of ministry and what God is calling us to do next. One of the big areas of focus for us is the youth ministry. We are working hard to communicate the need for God in their lives and to hopefully move them closer to Him. That venture is not an easy one (although the rewards are certainly worth it) and we struggle with the balance of our efforts and what can only be achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday was a day of prayer and fasting for our staff and we all spent time seeking God and His wisdom for many areas. I didn't expect to be given a three point plan on how to change what we do and make it more powerful, but we were all searching for a revelation of direction from God.

Is that any different in other aspects of our lives? Aren't we all (if we will pause and be honest) looking for direction in our future plans, marriages, friendships, relationship boundaries, parenting, family relations, careers and goals? I know that God has that plan and vision and that He wants to be the central focus for all we do. Why isn't the truth plain and evident then?

What if the thing that is holding back that revelation is not the unwillingness of God to share it, but our lack of readiness to receive it?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Spiritual Catalyst

I am re-reading In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day by Mark Batterson as we prep to begin a series on it next month. I had previously underlined the phrase "spiritual catalyst" and it stirred my thoughts this morning.

A catalyst is something that causes change-that creates a reaction.Working through the spiritual implications of that can be challenging. That catalytic event is also different for each of us depending on our maturity and recognition of God at work in the middle of it. Certain experiences are obviously defined as spiritual catalysts: a mission trip, a worship experience like CIY Believe/Move, a week of camp, a powerful prayer service or the beginning/ending of a life.

As we grow in Christ however, the scope of that concept is broadened. It no longer requires a sentinel event to get our attention and get us to focus on God-we start to notice Him in the moments throughout the day and then they serve to draw us closer to Him. Our hearts are changed as we start to see how He is calling out to us in multiple ways: the pain that we don't understand, the brokenness of our human relationships, the hurt that others inflict on us, the joy of a child's laughter, the comfort of holding hands with someone you love, the intimacy of praying for another person, the satisfaction in our soul when we serve someone with no desire for our own recognition, or a meal shared with family.

Those catalytic opportunities fill our day. Will we recognize them and let them serve as spiritual experiences that increase our intimacy with God or will we miss the whispering of our Father as He seeks to bring us closer to Him?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Influence: Mike Waers

I'm sure that a few of my readers were wondering why I didn't mention Mike Waers in the two previous posts about influence, but I thought that he deserved his own entry.

I knew of Mike from his days at FSU and the campus ministry that he worked in there. He would periodically come down to TCC and speak as we continued to support him. It was about five years ago that he joined the Tomoka staff while I was already there as youth pastor. I can honestly say that since that time he has invested more in me than any other person.

We spent countless hours in Florida talking in his office and asking each other tough questions and seeking better ways to do things. He was willing to push my buttons (and often did!), but after reflecting on what he had to say he was right more often than not. I was able to watch him there and see how he interacted with people and the approach that he took to ministry. When he and Kathy left to come to Northridge it left a huge, gaping hole in my accountability and mentorship. The benefit of my time with him was clearly evident in the year that we spent apart as I can honestly say that my best year of ministry at Tomoka was my last year. I was able to put into practice the lessons that Mike had taught me and I feel that I had finally become a real pastor.

When things ended quickly in Florida, Mike was the first person that I called on the way home. He and Kathy cried and prayed for us and God used those circumstances to bring us here to live and work together again. Our roles have shifted here, but he still continues to teach me-more than he is even aware of. I see how he interacts with people in public, how he cares so deeply for the people of this church and this community, how he strives to always make things better, and yet seek God's will through every bit of it. He makes me aware of things that I don't see at first and pushes me to think carefully before I make a decision. We have had our volatile moments, but we love each other through them all and again-he's right more often than he's not.

My wife and I are more grateful for Mike and Kathy than they could ever know. We are thankful for their patience with us as we have healed from the painful departure from Florida. It is a privilege to serve here alongside them and to see the stretching influence that they have on our lives and it amazes me how God has brought us both here to serve and grow together.

I couldn't ask for a better friend, mentor and role model.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Influence: Partners in Ministry

I was very fortunate in my early days of ministry to be working with several other people in our community that helped to direct my thoughts and develop philosophy of ministry. They were willing to take the time to dialogue with me as we invested in each other and our common goal of reaching people for Christ.

Robbie O'Brien has been a friend of mine for about 15 years now and we have certainly seen each other through the tough and the good times. When I entered into ministry in 2003, we had been friends for several years and he was serving at First United Methodist. His experience working with youth was a tremendous blessing to me, but he has influenced me more since he planted The Beachside Church. I appreciate our open and yet challenging conversations and that he was there for us when things fell apart at Tomoka. He is one of those friends that I don't have to talk to very often, but we both know that we are there for each other whenever we are needed.

Drew Powell was the worship leader and youth guy at Oasis Christ Fellowship when I started. We quickly developed a partnership and worked together on several community events. We were fortunate to bring him on staff as he was planting The Beachside Church which gave us a chance to work more closely. Drew is a brother to me and is the most gifted worship leader I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. He is truly anointed and has shaped my thoughts about worship and my attitude towards leading. I would love the opportunity to work with him again as we encourage each other from a distance.

One of my best friends in ministry is John Porterfield. We started working middle school camp together in 2004 and instantly struck up a great friendship. John's experience in ministry was a great benefit to me and he certainly helped to make my years of camp much easier. We were blessed to be an active part of each other's ministry for several years and I consider him a brother and great friend.

There are many other good friends and conversations that helped to shape my philosophy of ministry and still continue to do so: Justin Halleck, Ray & Susan Kelley, Al Force, Jay Gibson, Linda Marshall, Carrie Graham, Charles & Melanie Dolich and Gary Powell to name a few. I am thankful for fellow warriors for Christ and their willingness to work alongside me in the battle for people's souls.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Influence: The TCC Years

It has been a while since I continued in this blog series of influence, but I felt it was time to get after it and finish it up.

It is said, and accurately I might add, that we are the sum total of our life experiences. The individual that you are today is no accident, but has been shaped by the interactions of people around you with God obviously working through all of it whether we choose to recognize Him or not. I am the husband, father, pastor and follower of Christ that I am today because of the influence of many people, but a great deal of that influence has come from my years at Tomoka Christian Church, and specifically Joe Putting and Ed Marshall.

I grew up in the church, but wandered away from the truth that I knew through my senior year of high school and all of college. It wasn't until I was married and two very close friends invited Dana and I to TCC that we started the journey back. It was on my first Sunday there that we ended up "coincidentally" having lunch with Joe and Luanne Putting. That was the start of a friendship and a leading from God that changed our lives forever.

I was exposed to a passionate form of Christianity that was authentic and unlike anything I had seen before. It was no longer about Sunday rituals and was about being actively engaged in pursuing God's will for our lives and a desire to reach the rest of the world. Prayer took on meaning and was no longer a simple recitation. Worship was something to be actively engaged in and a part of every day life. I would say that I finally became a real Christ follower while I was there.

In 2003, Joe asked me to join his staff as the youth pastor. It was the start of the revealing of my true path in life and what God has called me to do. It was not always the easiest journey in my time there and our departure was certainly difficult, but the lessons that I learned from Joe and Ed are invaluable. Both men possess a passion for the Word of God and for lost souls that has shifted my focus over the years. We were all blessed to be part of some great works of God while we were there and I continue to look back even now for guidance on listening to God and how to be a pastor.

I am honestly grateful for the time that we were able to share together as a staff and warriors for the cause of Christ. The past year has been a tough learning experience and unfortunately I don't think our relationship will ever be the same, but I truly value the impact that Joe and  Ed have had on my life. My prayers are always with them and I hope that one day we could all sit down and celebrate God's work in our lives and what He accomplished through us while we served there together.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Good, Pleasing & Perfect

We spend a lot of time searching for God's will in our lives and in ministry. We pray, study the Word, and seek wise counsel before we take action. Sometimes we can become paralyzed by the indecision we face as we want to make the right choice and follow the direction of God without making a huge mistake.

As I read in Romans 12 this morning, I see the key. It is for us to be transformed as our minds are made new by God. When we are made into the likeness of Christ we no longer struggle with determining His will for us. We are able to test and approve what we are facing and know what is true because of the power of the Holy Spirit that is in us.

I have read this passage hundreds of times, but this morning it is the key of transformation-not just diligent prayer-that resonates with me and directs me to where my focus should be for my own soul's sake.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Hope So

A commonly quoted verse (especially in youth ministries) is Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." It is usually shared in the context of the great plans that God has for each of us and to encourage people to trust in God's will and direction for our lives.

This morning I am struck by another thought in my reading. This verse is more than just waiting for God to reveal His great plan to us. It is a challenge to have the bold faith to ask God for something magnificent and powerful in our lives. It should direct us to ask the question of what we are truly hoping for from God. This is something that takes faith and vision on our part.

Perhaps one of the greatest lessons that we (as pastors) can teach the church is to have a hope for the future in Jesus Christ. Not just a hope for heaven once this life here is done, but a hope for great things from God now. A hope for our children, marriages, finances, careers, relationships, churches and more. I think this must be constantly taught because too few people understand the vision of this concept (including me.)

Rod Parsley in his book Ancient Wells, Living Water puts it this way:
"Most people don't have a future, because they have no hope; they only have a prolonged today. They live in what I call the 'someday syndrome.' In order to have something you've never had before, you must do something different than what you're doing right now. God-given hope sees your tomorrows as different from your today!"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Right Way

When things don't go as well as I would hope (both from a personal and a ministry perspective) I tend to analyze and strategize. I will ask questions and dialogue with people that I trust to see what we might do differently to achieve greater impact and results. The problem with doing things this way is that it cuts God out of the equation far too much because I haven't spent the time in prayer.

I feel that I understand the power of prayer and truly believe that God hears us and answers us, but in practice my prayer life doesn't reflect that dedication enough. I feel safe enough to say that is probably the case for a lot of people. When we are in trouble or things start to fall apart around us we will certainly turn to God for solutions. How much different would our individual lives and God's church be if we faithfully petitioned Him each day for powerful things though? How much would our faith increase through that process of trusting and seeing answers? Are we willing to utilize the gift of prayer that He has given to us in the way that He intended for us to use it?

I see in Scripture that God is waiting to bless us and to use us here in mighty ways if we will only seek Him through prayer. I am challenged this morning to eagerly speak to God and to ask for His favor as we continue to move people closer to Him-and then to believe that those prayers will be answered.

"Nothing is more important to God than prayer in dealing with mankind. But is it likewise all-important to man to pray? Failure to pray is failure along the whole line of life. It is failure of duty, service and spiritual progress. God must help man by prayer. He who does not pray, therefore, robs himself of God's help and places God where he cannot help man. Man must pray to God if love for God is to exist."  E.M. Bounds

Monday, September 6, 2010

Something New

I am often too contemplative for my own good. I get things rolling around in my head and create perceptions and arguments for and against things that aren't necessarily the most beneficial footholds to gain. I also fall into the comparison trap between the past and my current standing/situation.

As I seek direction from God for what to do next in ministry here at Northridge, it can be easy to fall into the trap of looking at the past and what has worked instead of trusting God for a new vision. I believe strongly in the fundamental principles of relying on the Word of God for teaching, a lifestyle of worship, serving in the area of your giftedness and a commitment to leading others to Christ. Those areas do not change, but the methodology will vary. I trust in God's great plan for us though-even though I need to remind myself of that sometimes. I know that He has something that is new and incredible for all of us-as His church and for all of us as individual families.

My heart is focused on the youth at Northridge this morning and I know that God has something new for us. It is time to truly seek what that vision is and to be faithful and obedient enough to step out and follow it-even if it is something we have never seen before.

"Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say 'Thank you!' --the coyotes and the buzzards-- Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me."  Isaiah 43:18-21

Friday, September 3, 2010

Prevailing Purpose

As I read in Isaiah 28 this morning, there was a problem in the church. The spiritual leaders had become focused on their own position and comfort level. They were not teaching the truth of God's Word, but had instead fallen into a pattern of simply teaching "don'ts." There was no emphasis on the true nature of God and His great desire to have intimacy with His people. As a result of their lack of vision and obedience, the people following them were mere spiritual infants when they should have been mature. Due to their lack of faith and trust, God created circumstances that would bring their focus back to Him-painful as that process was going to be.

When God is ignored in His church (even today), He will get our attention. This is not out of His own pride, but out of His overwhelming love for all of us. It is a challenge for pastors and leaders to stay focused on His ultimate plan for us and to be sure that we do not lose sight of His direction. If we are firmly in the Word and committed to teaching it no matter what that looks like or how uncomfortable that makes people, then it won't be necessary for God to intervene in other ways.