Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

So, You Believe In God?

Posted: October 28, 2013 in Christian Living, Ministry

So, you believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder (James 2:19)
Many people believe in one God, in fact, most of the world believes in only one God. Polytheism is not as prevalent as it has been in the past. Hinduism claims about 851 million followers, which is approximately 13% of the world’s population. Christianity claims about 31% and Muslims make up 23%

Just as James says, even the demons believe in one God. They know God, who He is, and what He has done. They know who God is, but they don’t really know God. There is a difference in knowing about somebody and really knowing them. I can read books about somebody but I will never know them until I spend time with them. Generally, we understand this concept when it comes to people, but it loses a little in translation when we try to apply the concept to God.

Most of the people I know believe in God. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve been an active church member for years, but nonetheless, most of the people I know believe in God. Atheism is on the rise, but their worldwide population as of 2012 is just over 2%. The real problem is not that people don’t believe in God, although I do think there is a problem that that people don’t see a creator/designer in the natural world. The larger issue stems from those who believe in God, but seem to disregard what that entails.

What does it mean to believe in God but not know Him? A fairly simple way to gauge how we view God is by where we put our trust. As people, we tend to put our trust in ourselves, and our lives become mostly about getting more money.

We look to our jobs for our provision

We look to our retirement plans for security

Now, money isn’t the root of all evil; the love of money is. The mentality that you always need to have more fuels our greed. Money does not buy happiness. It can do wonderful things but it cannot make you happy.

What if we didn’t have to worry about money? What if we really didn’t have to worry about anything? God doesn’t want us to worry or be anxious about anything, but how is it possible to live like that?

What if we did more than just acknowledge God’s existence?

What if we decided to put our faith and trust in Him instead of ourselves, or our wealth?

For those of us who know God, we need to do these thing better:

We need to trust Him
We need to put our faith in the One who sent His son for us
We need to put our faith in the One who died for us
We need to put our faith in the One who was raised for us

What is it that we trust?

What is it that we trust?

When we put our faith in God, we realize that no amount of money is going to provide for us as well as God. When we put our faith in God, we realize that no matter how little money we have, God can still provide all we need.

Believing in God is great, but do you know Him, and do you trust Him?

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What breaks your heart? Are you moved by poverty? Is it racial discrimination that brings your blood to a boil? Do you hate seeing corruption everywhere you turn? Does your heart stir for orphans, or maybe it’s abuse victims that cause you turmoil? Most likely, all of these things bother you at some level, but is there something that really breaks your heart?

Our youth group recently watched a video of Bill Hybels speaking at a leadership conference. He was talking about what he calls our “Holy Discontent”, which is basically the one thing that really breaks our hearts and consumes us. Hybels says that great things can happen when you are absolutely wrecked by something. Not just mildly offended by something, or semi-interested in a cause, but absolutely wrecked by injustice. I may not agree with all of the things that Bill Hybels says, but I do believe that God wants us to get involved with His mission to rescue people. There are many ways to get involved, but you or I cannot do all of them. If we each work toward finding that which breaks our heart, and then allow that passion to grow into action, we can start to really help people. If we are all doing our share, we can really do great things for others. I believe that finding the injustice that breaks our heart the most is the first step in finding our calling.

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What can we do if we all work together?

If I can find my one heartbreaker and focus my attention on that one thing, and if you could find yours and focus on it, and the next person could find theirs… and so on, how much do you think we could accomplish? God wants us to be intently involved in His story. He has gifted all of us and set within us a brokenness over one thing or another. Do you know what that thing is? Do you know what breaks your heart?

A few days ago I wrote a post about a conversation I had when I was in the Army.  Click here for the link.  The short version is that during a lull in a training day, we were tasked to pick weeds out of a rock bed.  One of the other trainees said that they did not join the Army to pick weeds out of rock beds.  That post was generally about entitlement and the current trend of people who think they’re too good to do real work.  This post is going to be about the same conversation, but from a different perspective.

One thing that I purposefully left out of the details of this conversation is the rank of the person I was talking to.  At the time I was just a lowly Private (E2) and the complainer was a West Point cadet.  The interesting aspect of this conversation lies in the fact that this cadet was (unless something happened) on her way to becoming an officer in the Army.  She was on the road to be in charge of other people and to possibly make decisions that would put soldiers into life threatening situations.

My response to her, at the time, was that she needed to remember that day.  I told her that at some point, she would be in charge of people and she would need to know that this is how the other half lives.  I told her that soldiers were to do what they were told and that menial work is something in which most soldiers have an intimate knowledge.  I told her to remember that day when she is in charge of others.  I told her to remember it so that when she was leading people, she could do so with compassion and understanding.

Too many people lead by their position alone.  They are the boss, they tell you what to do, and make sure you do it.  They are sure to let you know, regularly, that they control your paycheck and, in turn, your life.  That is not leading. That’s just pushing.

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Take over to the water cooler, minions!

If you are in charge of someone or many someones, think about how you get things done.  Do you use fear?  Do you use manipulation?  Do you make sure everyone knows you run the show, sign the checks and have all of the power?  If so, you are probably getting poor performance from your team.

On the other hand, do you spend any time figuring out the abilities, knowledge, passions and talents of those you lead?  If you spend time figuring out where people shine, you can organize your team better and get better performance from your people.  If you show your team that you care about them and their needs, talents, passions, skills and abilities, you show them that you care about them as a person and not just as an employee or volunteer.  If you make a shift in your leadership to take into account those under your care, you will be amazed at how much better your team will take care of you and the tasks at hand.

It also helps to remember how you felt when you were in their shoes, especially if you don’t have a boss anymore.  How did you like hearing your boss bark orders at you?  Do you still have a boss who treats you poorly?  If so, does that give you the excuse to do the same to your subordinates?  Pulling people along instead of pushing them around is a mindset.  People love to follow their leaders, but they generally do not enjoy being pushed by insecure or egotistical tyrants.

“I didn’t join the Army to pick weeds out of rock beds.”The words were spoken over a decade ago.  In fact, it has been almost 15 years since I heard them.  I remember the conversation well.  I was in jump school at Fort Benning, GA and there was a break in the training.  The Army doesn’t like to pay its soldiers to sit around and do nothing (especially in a training environment), so when there is a lull in legitimate work, special provisions are made.  Cleanliness is a virtue in the military, and someone has to make everything neat and tidy.  The task at hand was a simple one, and not nearly as degrading as spending an entire Saturday cleaning bathrooms.  Our task at the time was picking weeds out of a gravel bed.Sometimes we have to do things that sound stupid, or seem like a waste of time.  There are always tasks that we have to do that we just don’t want to do.  We are, inherently, selfish beings who have been told to look after number one.  We are groomed to put ourselves, our needs, our desires, above all others.  We are also told that we should bail out of any situation that does not bring us joy and pleasure.

Nobody joins the Army to pick weeds out of rock beds.  But sometimes picking weeds out of rock beds just so happens to be the assignment for the day.

This is how the Army determines success

I love to complain about things.  I’m not bragging about it, but I generally need to vent about whatever is frustrating me.  At times I can take things a little far, but I know that if I don’t say something about it, I just sit and fume about whatever the problem is.  I know I complained about picking the weeds, but there is a big difference between complaining and feeling superior to the non-enjoyable parts of work.  I did not join the army to do menial tasks in the hot, July sun but that was what I was told to do.  I was not too good for that job.

I just got back from standing behind a concession stand at an Ohio State University football game this afternoon (I like to wait a few days before I edit and post my articles for those of you wondering why you aren’t reading this on a Saturday evening or a Sunday morning) and honestly, I did not want to go and help out.  I was not being paid for it, and this was supposed to be my first Saturday to relax at home with my wife in far too many weeks.  I was asked by a very close friend of mine who needed a couple of people to fill up gaps in the team.  I reluctantly accepted and woke up way earlier than I wanted to this morning to get up to the stadium by 9am.

Once I got over myself; my lack of sleep, my lack of quality time with my wife… I was able to enjoy myself.  I may not have enjoyed running around and fetching hot dogs, waters, popcorn, pretzels and all sorts of other stuff.  I may not have liked getting up early on a Saturday.  I may not have wanted to spend eight hours away from my wife.  But you know what?  I love helping people.  That’s why I’m in ministry.  That’s why I work for a school district instead of a corporation.  That’s also why I showed up this morning.  Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, because it helps others.  Someone has to serve food to hungry football fans.  Someone has to clean the bathrooms, and yes, someone even has to pick weeds out of rock beds.

I’ve heard that a lot, and as a Christian, I’ve said that a lot.  “II pray for you” is the Christian knee-jerk reaction to hearing anything from anyone.

  • You need a job, I’m praying for you.
  • Sick grandma, I’m praying for you, and her, and any other random family members who might be affected.
  • Hey, you lost a limb in a strange farm equipment accident, I’ll be in touch with the Big Guy, maybe He’ll get you a new one.

There is nothing wrong with praying for others.  Prayers of intercession (the ‘hey, look at me, I know big words’ way of saying prayers that help others) are an amazing way to support people.  Why would you not pray for those around you who need help?  All of us know people who have needs.  Whether those needs are physical or spiritual, we are all close to people who could use some prayer.  God is a big God, and why not spend some time talking with Him about the issues on our minds?  I love praying for other people’s needs.  It really helps me take focus off myself, and it reminds me that God is in control.

You know what else is a kind gesture to those in need?  Helping them.  It’s a novel concept, I know.  Some of you are probably staring blankly at the screen, trying to understand what that even means.  ‘Helping them? I’m not sure what he’s getting at.  I mean I said I’d pray for them, what else can I do?’

Not that prayer isn't good, but these kids might need some physical help we can provide right now.

When I see people around me who have needs, I pray for them, but I try to help them when I am able.  If they are feeling low, I offer an ear or a hug, or both.  If they need some money, I offer to help out.  I allow myself to be open to the needs of those around me so that I can be used to reach into their lives.  I get to use my gifts to help others, and I love it.

Where is the love?

Apple Inc. has made so much money during the recession that it is poised to beat ExxonMobile as the most profitable company on the planet.  This is not a statement against Apple, but a question posed to those of us who helped make that happen.  The unemployment rate is just above 9%.  Costs of goods and services are skyrocketing, and yet we spent so much money on unnecessary gadgets this year that we pushed a company that only makes unnecessary gadgets into a position to become the most profitable company in existence.

I have no problems with buying iWhatevers or iShinyThing#3 but where is our neighborly love?  Why must we force social programs onto the shoulders of our government?  If we, as ordinary people, took some time and helped those around us (volunteering at shelters, donating food and clothing, adopting and fostering children…) we wouldn’t need so many government programs.  There are so many people in the world with their legitimate needs left unmet, and so many people with so much excess in their lives, why don’t we give a little bit away to help those around us?

Prayer is an amazing way to help those around us, but we need to realize that sometimes there are practical solutions that we can provide to others.

James 2:15-16 - Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

It doesn’t take a keen eye or some sixth sense to know that today’s kids are struggling with life. There are so many options and so many paths they have laid out before them. Most don’t seem to know where they’re going or even that they should be going anywhere. Their parents tell them what to do after school(usually college), their teachers tell them what to do, and their friends tell them what to do. They are constantly bombarded with options and choices, some with dire consequences. I see students all of the time. I work for a public school district and I am a youth leader at my church. What I see around me are students who are trying to figure out where they fit into the grand scheme of life. They have lots of decisions to make, and lots of factors to weigh. The big question is; who is actually helping them?

You won't get through to him if you can't get him to pay attention

Teenagers need direction; but who can they turn to for real help? Parents would be the easy answer, as would teachers, friends, older relatives, clergy… and many others who may or may not be the ones you want investing time into today’s youth. Sometimes even those who seem like obvious answers to us adults are not necessarily the first places teens will turn for advice. In fact, those people might be the last people teens turn to. Some teenagers are afraid of looking stupid, or failing to meet expectations. Some just don’t want to deal with the stress. The fact is, some teenagers just don’t have good role models to emulate.

See, still not paying attention

What can be done to help? Is there any way to offer help and support? I think there is. I spend a lot of time working with teenagers, and I consider that one of the best decisions I have ever made. Working with the youth group at my church has been amazing. I get to spend time with some of the greatest people I have ever met. These students are fun, funny, smart, caring, energetic and lovable. Like anything, there are good times and bad times. Joy is mixed with frustration and heartache. There is also a lot of work and it can be very stressful at times. The rewards are worth the effort, though.

I get to watch teenagers grow and mature. I get to see them stumble and fall, and then pick themselves back up again. I get to help them make decisions (well, those who choose to listen) and many have bent my ear from time to time. The relationships built as teenagers can grow into real adult friendships, too. I still spend time with a lot of my former students, and one of my old students was even the best man at my wedding.

What is the secret to being a good mentor? There really isn’t one. There are some ingredients that are needed, but they aren’t really secrets. Time and effort are key, though. Make time to be with those you mentor. It’s like any other relationship. If you neglect to spend time with someone, the relationship you form will start to die. If you don’t invest any time at all, there will eventually be no relationship. Effort is also important. Some teenagers have been let down before and it may take some legitimate effort on your part to build a solid relationship with them. They need to know you aren’t going to throw them to the wolves or berate them when they make mistakes. They need to know they can confide in you and that you are trustworthy enough to listen without judgement. There might be some baggage to sort through and some pains that need healing, but when you can see hope in the eyes of a teen, especially one who never had hope before, you will see why people devote their lives to investing in others.

I know this one guy.  He’s one of those people who is always running around.  He has a job, serves at his church, has a social life and a lot of other things that pull at him from seemingly every direction.  He never seems to rest, and is almost always stressed out or tired.  Actually, come to think of it, you probably know this guy, too.  He is probably every guy (or girl) you’ve ever met.  He’s probably you.  In fact, you’re probably hoping that this will be a short article so that you can get back to something else that’s demanding your attention.

The question is, how did we get here?  I don’t know about you, but my life is fairly busy.  I work, lead a young adult group, and help lead a youth group.  I am generally teaching twice a week (sometimes three times a week) along with having a full time job in IT.  I have wonderful friends who would like to spend time with me.  There are teenagers and twenty-somethings who seek me for advice and guidance.  I am a fairly busy man.  Don’t get me wrong, I ike what I do, so I’m not really complaining about it, I’m just setting the scene.

I think I hit the main problem with a lifestyle like this.  I like it.  In fact, I really like it.  I truly enjoy the lunches, dinners, meetings, group times, study sessions… all of the things that make ministry difficult and time consuming.  If I didn’t like these things, I would stop doing them.  But how long can I (or you) keep up this pace?  What happens when we start to lose our footing, or our momentum?

I think we need breaks.  Not necessarily long breaks, but we need breaks.  A couple of weeks ago I asked some of the other leaders in my groups to take over for a bit.  I’m in the middle of planning a wedding and looking for a house, so I need all of the extra time I can find.  I am grateful for these people who are helping me with the teaching and planning of these ministries while I take a short sabbatical.  One of the things I started to notice once I shared the responsibilities is that I felt free again.  Not in a “see you later, sucka” kind of freedom, but I noticed that I don’t need to lead everything all of the time.

photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just tell the intern I'm looking at houses

Since I have these people around me who are capable of teaching and leading, I should use them more often.  In fact, they have been asking to help out more often, and allowing them to step up not only helps me, but it also helps them.  What an amazing concept.

Now that I see that I have people around me who can take charge and lead these groups, maybe I will plan for a couple of these breaks every once in a while.  I know I can use the time off to regroup and refocus.  Also, I can help others to grow as leaders while I recharge my own batteries.

Do you take breaks?  How do you plan them out?  I’d love to hear how you guys do it.