Listening without Fixing


One of my favorite authors currently is Parker J. Palmer. If you are not familiar with his work, I highly recommend him to you. In his book “A Hidden Wholeness, the Journey toward an Undivided Life,” in Chapter 7, he contends that:

We should stop trying to fix people.

When we listen with the intent to fix, what presents itself initially as caring, actually may be our “shadow-side” saying something like this:

 

  • If you take my advice you will surely solve your problem.
  • If you take my advice and fail to solve your problem, you did not try hard enough.
  • If you do not take my advice, and you do not solve your problem, I did the best I could.

 

And no matter what the outcome, I no longer need to worry about you or your problem. When we listen with the intent to fix, what initially seems like caring, is really a way for us to keep the other at arms length, and distance ourself from their problem.

I concurr with much of what Palmer says. Many of us love to be answer-givers and honestly love the sound of our own voice. But often it is not what people really want or even what they really need. This was never more apparent to me than when my house burned down, and again now in the wake of my divorce. My friend Eddie modeled this as he physically stood beside me as my house was burning to the ground. He stood there silently, without saying a word, with smoke and emotion circling my head. I did not want anyone trying to make sense of it all in that moment. Not that there wasn’t things that could have been said, he just didn’t feel the need to say them. His silence spoke volumes to me. And inside the space of that vacuum without words, I was cured of answer-giving.

The common cry of our culture is that “no one understands me, no one really listens to me.”

And if you work with teenagers, or are a parent of one, you know how especially true this is for them. A few years ago I was sitting with a friend who was battling depression, and he was expressing how I was one of the few people who actually still took his calls anymore. How tragic! Not that he was battling depression, but that nobody was willing to walk with him in his pain. I responded by saying something like: “Of course! You are one of my favorite people. I may not have the answers, but I will always listen to you.”

Early in my journey, I would have tried to fix him. Now instead of giving answers, I try ask questions. Not to feed my curiousity, but to clarify their own thoughts. More than anything I try to just be present. To be someone who will walk with them in their pain. And if you beleive in God, and I do, Scripture says He is our “ever present help in our time of need,” and “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Often times, well-meaning Christians feel they need to be the voice of God for people. But that’s rarely the case. In fact, when God wants to speak, he generally does not have any problems communicating. And when you presume to speak for the God of the Universe, you better be damn careful what you say. Perhaps instead of presuming to speak for Him, we would represent Him best by simply being present with people in their pain.

The Jews have something in their culture called “sitting-shiva.” Shiva is a seven-day mourning period that occurs after the death of a loved one, often an immediate family member. People come and “sit-shiva” with the bereaved, often times sitting low to the ground, or even on the ground itself, to identify with the person’s suffering. Visitors do not ring the doorbell, do not speak, do not even greet the bereaved; they simply sit with them. They only speak when the bereaved initiates conversation, and often it is to simply share stories of the one who has passed.

Our culture could use a large dose of “sitting-shiva” with people in a culture of pain. It is the one of the few things in our culture that we have in common.

 

 

We have not all experienced the same pain…. but we have all experienced deep pain.

 

As people we would do well to learn to listen again; really listen. And to resist the temptation to fix people, but instead to simply journey with people in their pain.

In a culture of answer-givers, be the one friend who really listens.

Advertisements

Witness to an Adventure


BakerRailroadGrade

Michael had it written all over his face. He was done. Ninety minutes into our four-day hike, he was whipped. Michael was not really an athletic kid, a tad overweight and sweating profusely. He was wearing blue jeans and seemingly unprepared to climb a mountain. As an at-risk high schooler on our 12-day adventure called Leadership Pursuits, Michael already had accomplished way more than he probably dreamt he could. He’d gone whitewater rafting and kayaking. He belayed off a rock face, ridden horses, built a campground, and now was on a four-day ascent to the summit of Mt. Adams, a 12,280-foot volcano in Southwest Washington, adjacent to the infamous Mt. St. Helens; and he was ready to quit.

Greg Johnson, the trip leader and our most seasoned mountaineer in Youth Dynamics Adventures, pulled the group of 12 into the shade of some old-growth cedars for a short break and went over to Michael to assess the situation. Michael plopped his 60-pound pack onto the ground and collapsed in a heap onto a log. After we had rested for 10 or 15 minutes, we needed to get back on the trail, but we had a decision to make. Should we continue on with Michael or without him? It was to be a four-day hike to the summit and back. We really only had two options: Either we could pull one of our leaders off the trail, and he and Michael could sit in the parking lot and wait four days for us to return, or we could try as a team to get Michael through the next several days. We let the team decide. They rallied. The team wanted to help Michael complete the journey to the summit and back.

Greg immediately began to rummage through Michael’s pack. He discovered a family-size Bible, some blue jeans, some other heavy items he wouldn’t need, and promptly buried them. (We retrieved them on the way back.) Other members of the group volunteered to take some of his other gear so Michael’s pack would be lighter. Would it be enough? Would he last the day? Would he last four days? Only time would tell.

Our little caravan started back on the trail with me in the lead, followed by six high school boys, with three leaders interspersed, and Greg planted directly behind Michael bringing up the rear. What followed was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. From one pit stop to the next, Greg was right there with Michael chirping in his ear. “You can do this. It’s just around this next bend.” Or, “Let’s make it to that big tree. Just 10 more minutes, then we can rest.” Sometimes Greg would encourage Michael; other times he was stern with him, prodding him forward. Step by step, Michael walked up that mountain. We hiked through the trees in the morning; beautiful forests of pine, cedar, Douglas fir and blue spruce. We emerged through the tree line just after lunch. We were encouraged, spirits were high. Then we encountered a section of the mountain that might as well be Mordor. Straight out of Lord of the Rings, it is a large field of lava rock, and it is brutal. Michael persevered and made it to our campsite above the lava rock at the base of mountain’s face. We spent the night at the snow line with our tents pitched mostly on rocks.

We took most of the evening and the entire next day with lessons about life and leadership and how God fits into the whole picture. We also spent a significant amount of time in snow school, learning how to climb safely in the snow with boots and crampons, how to properly use our ice axes, and most importantly how to stop ourselves if we fell, while not stabbing ourselves with our axes in the process!

The morning of the third day, we awoke early for a mountain ascent, leaving at 2 a.m. so we could summit and climb back down before the snow got soft and dangerous in the afternoon sun. We set out with our headlamps in the dark of the early morning, climbing in a line, one after the other, in a zig-zag pattern up the steep face of Mt. Adams. The face itself is about 1,500 feet of vertical, and it feels as if it’s straight up. Each step was taken carefully, with our ice axes in our uphill hands, planting them firmly in the snow, then scraping out a level foothold before taking our next step—then repeating the process. After three or four hours of climbing, we reached the top of the face, exhausted, coming to grips with the reality that we had only reached a false summit. False because if we hadn’t known better, we would have thought it was the summit while we were climbing only to reach the top and realize the summit was still beyond us, and we couldn’t see it from where we were climbing. While we waited for Michael and Greg to join us, we enjoyed a snack and took in the expansive view of the mountains below us as the sun had risen during our ascent. After a good rest, the team was eager to take on the final push. We set out on a free for all, traversing horizontally across a ½-mile flat field of snow and reconvened at the base for a final ascent of the last couple hundred feet of vertical. The team decided to wait and let Michael lead the team up from here. As we made the final push, here was Michael, the kid I thought was going to quit an hour into our hike, leading the team to the top. As he reached the summit first, a wide smile came across his face as he jumped up and down and shouted at the top of his lungs. It was in all aspects a pinnacle moment in his life. He had accomplished something well beyond what he believed he could do, something no one ever would be able to take away from him, and learned some things about himself that no doubt will stay with him for the rest of his life.

I have witnessed moments such as this again and again with teenagers while climbing mountains, whitewater rafting or rock climbing. The medium really doesn’t matter as long as the elements are the same. Take someone outside his or her comfort zone, include challenge and some risk, create an environment where he or she must exercise faith and dig down inside him or herself to accomplish something that previously seemed impossible, while a team of people surround and support the person. It’s an amazing thing to watch.

~Mark

Originally Published in YouthWorker Journal, March/April 2016

“Finding Faith in the Dark” – When the story of your life takes a turn you didn’t plan


I just finished reading Laurie Polich Short’s new book “Finding Faith in the Dark.” It was a quick, enjoyable, encouraging read. The premise of the book is this… many Christians live life quoting 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.” And from that we somehow draw the conclusion that “our plans” and “God’s plans” are one in the same, or at the very least, that everything is going to work out in amazing ways, “beyond what we can hope or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)

And it doesn’t. Eventually life collides with our faith, as our hopes and dreams are confronted by harsh reality. At least for most people. And as a career youth worker, this single point of pop-theology is the knock-out blow to the faith of many young adults who grow up in the church. We preach that God is good, we teach that we are his children, we more than infer that God the Father only wants to give good gifts to his children. But life rarely works that way. And when something bad eventually happens, it creates a crisis of faith that many young adults simply don’t survive and they walk away from the church, many times on God himself.

Laurie does a great job of chronicling story after story of people who’s lives didn’t go according to plan, and pain was introduced to their lives through no fault of their own. She also includes her own very personal journey through pain and disappointment to eventual resolution.

Her conclusion is this. Your plans are not his plans, your ways are not His ways and although life may not turn out the way your originally thought, God is faithful to journey with us through our pain. And the place He leads us is good, albeit not the way we would draw it up.

I would especially recommend this book to anyone you know who finds themselves somewhere in the journey of pain and disillusionment… which is all of us at some point, right?

Sorry it took so long for me to read this Laurie. Great job. It’s been a privilege to journey with you as a friend for the past 10 years of your story.

And there’s a lot more story still to be written…
“Stay in the Journey my friend.”

~Mark

IMG_0769.JPG

Press On


Mt. Baker, WA - Railroad Grade

My Mt. Baker summit climb with teens from YD Adventures in August 2014

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil 3:12-14

“Press on.” Keep going. It’s what you tell students who are struggling on a long hike. It’s what you tell your friend who is going through a hard time. It’s what the Apostle Paul tells us he is doing here in his letter to the church at Phillipi. Paul has accomplished some significant things at this point in his life. He is under house arrest in Rome. It’s been almost 30 years since his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He’s traveled around the Middle East several times planting churches and encouraging believers. He’s written 10 books of the New Testament by now. At almost 60, Paul is an old man for his day, and he is unaware that it’s actually only a few more years until he is beheaded during Nero’s reign.

But he’s not content. He is not stopping now. He has not arrived yet. The finish line is still a ways off in his mind. The beginning of the race is important, but the race is almost meaningless if you don’t finish. When I read his famous line, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” I automatically think of the pain he has had to go through to get to this point. The shipwreck he survived, the three times he’s been rocked and left for dead. “Forget about the pain, let’s finish strong,” is the first thing I imagine him saying to me. But it’s not just about the pain and the memory of it, that has the potential to hold him back. It’s also the victories he has already seen, the miracles he’s watched firsthand, and the growth of the church from its infancy to its expansion from just a few handful of believers to likely tens of thousands of Christ-followers in cities scattered around the Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Rome. But victories can be just as debilitating as pain. “I’ve done enough already,” “I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I would”; these thoughts can be the quicksand that prevents you from moving forward. Have you ever seen someone do this? It’s so sad to watch unfold.

In my 49 years, I have seen God do some amazing things, and conversely have slogged through some very painful times. Your personal history is no different. You have experienced both highs and lows. I imagine that right now there are people reading this who are at both ends of the spectrum; some who are experiencing some miracle of God currently, and others who are walking through a very difficult stretch of trail. I don’t know where you are at this moment, but wherever you find yourself, Paul’s message is the same: “Press on.”  But look carefully at what Paul says in Corinthians. We are just not pressing on in our own power. It’s not us, pulling up our bootstraps and moving ahead.

2 Cor 4:7-12 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

This is God’s work. He’s doing something in you. Be encouraged.

Press in and press on.

~Mark

October 2014

Keep Pushing Play – My One Year Workout-iversary


One year ago today I was fed up.

Fed up with my weight. Fed up with my belly. Fed up with the way I looked. And I decided to make a change. One year ago today I pressed play for the very first time. I had received my P90x DVD series in the mail, bought a few dumbbells, a yoga mat and a pull-up bar. I created a little area in my basement and determined to get up early every morning, put in the DVD and push play. I did just that. And it was hard, REALLY HARD.

But I kept pushing play.

Every morning, I got up, drank a couple glasses of water and went downstairs and pushed play. I didn’t miss a single workout. Sometimes I had to do it on the road, sometimes I had to do it late at night, but I did it. Every day. Every single day. I finished p90x in September and took a little break, then did the follow up series “P90x Plus” off and on through the holidays, waiting for the next hole in my calendar that would allow me to begin another program. I began BodyBeast at the end of January and have been lifting 6 days a week since. I feel great. I haven’t been sick a single day in over a year. I don’t have allergies for the first time in forever. And it’s still work, but it’s firmly embedded in my lifestyle now. My son asked me if I was addicted to working out, and I responded. “No, but I am committed to it.”

I am very pleased with where I’m at compared to where I imagined myself to be one year ago.

I would stare in the mirror, suck in my belly and say, I’m going to look like this someday. I now I do. And I don’t starve myself, in fact, I eat more. I had pie twice this week. But I don’t eat stupid stuff, like potato chips and fast food. And I don’t miss it. I don’t eat breaded chicken, I have Fro-Yo instead of ice cream, eat brown rice instead of white, drink water instead of Coke. Stuff like that. I take the stairs instead of the elevator and sometimes I park further away than I need to.

Little choices add up to big change. Manageable, incremental, sometimes seemingly negligible choices that equal tangible, real, measurable change.

The one thing that I still have to figure out is where to put my devotional life.

I will admit that it’s the one thing that’s suffered in all this. But before you judge me, remember that for thousands of years, Godly men and women have served The Lord faithfully without reading the Scriptures regularly: Moses, Abraham, David to name a few. Thankfully we at least have the option of reading our own copy these days. And I did read the Bible through every year for the 3 years prior to this year, so I felt okay with taking a break to get myself healthy, BODY, SOUL and SPIRIT. And I still connect with God through worship and prayer regularly.

Next year at this time…. I hope to have fully integrated both worlds.

But, please don’t judge yourself by my actions either. I’m in a new season of life. There were lots of years when our boys were little where my devotional life and my physical fitness looked a LOT different that it did does now. I remember having barely anytime for either! But I am full on empty-nesting now and I have more discretionary time than perhaps I ever have and I am adjusting accordingly. The overriding principle here is that through every season, hang on to the things that are valuable to you. The time you are able to commit to those things (significant relationships included), will morph and change throughout the seasons of life, and they should. Try to keep those commitments strong, but let them stretch like elastic. Do not let them get brittle and break.

Well let me restate that. Keep almost everything elastic, everything that is, except your waistband.

Don’t quit. Just stay in the fight friend, that’s how winning is done. Keep pushing play.
~Mark

Me pushing “Stop” after a workout. 🙂

If you liked this one you would like my related blogpost: “I need a new Mirror – Youth Ministry made me Fat!” plus you can see my before and after pics from p90x…

Lessons I learned in the backwash of being Fired by the Church.


I got fired from my dream job once. Well technically, I was “resigned.” If you’d been in ministry, you know how the all too familiar story goes, the details of my story are inconsequential. What’s important, is what I learned in failure’s wake. At the time, “getting resigned” was the most painful experience in my life to that point. I was hurt, defensive, disillusioned, disoriented… and I had to finish out the school year, 5 months away. It was brutal. For me, getting fired, even though I felt it was completely unjustified, taught me some valuable things.

1. Perspective is Everything

When I got resigned, it felt like it was the end of the world. Months later, I could see I was wrong. What looked like a really bad thing, in the rearview mirror, was actually God protecting me from a horrible chapter that was coming to that church. Even when it seems like God is not acting in our best interest, He is in fact, in that very moment, acting in our best interest. We just can’t see it yet.

2. I’m a Pastor whether I get paid for it or not

Getting fired, helped me discover that I was a Pastor whether or not I had a title or an office. I started to go to the same coffee shop every morning after I got resigned, and guess who became my congregation? You guessed it, the people in the coffee shop: the baristas, the owners, the customers. I naturally started to meet the needs of the people I came in contact with every day. I ministered to people I talked to. I prayed with some, counselled others. I even did a wedding for one of the baristas. I discovered  that I am a pastor because that’s what God wired me to do, not because I got paid to do it. My job no longer defined me. That was a fantastic discovery.

3. Getting fired humbled me a little.

It’s so easy to become arrogant in ministry, and it’s such a turn off. You get some success and you start to feel like it’s you.  You start to think you’re special. Your logical mind thinks “Sure, everyone is special, but I’m extra special because my ministry is growing more than everyone else I know.” That’s hogwash. It makes me wanna throw up. I can’t stand it now when I see guys in the pulpit who are full of themselves. Get fired and you’ll see. Ministry will go on without you. Yes God chooses to use you. But He could choose anyone. God allows us a front row seat for a time. It’s such a privilege to get to play a small part in eternal things. Don’t take it for granted. It may stop some day. And you know God can’t stomach arrogance either. (James 4:5-7)

4.  Some things you only learn through failure.

Failure can be a great teacher if you allow it to be. When I coached Jr. Tackle football, I remember during our practices, trying to get my son, who played cornerback, to make his first step backward on the snap. He was aggressive and very quick, and he wouldn’t listen. I warned him he would get burned someday. During our next game, it happened. A lightening fast receiver sprinted by him and wide open, caught a pass for a touchdown. My son came over to the sideline, head down, knowing he had failed, and was finally ready to receive instruction. I didn’t even need to say it. Failure was the teacher he needed to learn his lesson.  He never repeated that mistake again. He had learned his lesson through failure. In fact, I believe, there are some lessons we only learn through failure.

Lastly, remember, regardless of the human reasons that you “got resigned,” God’s hand is in it, guiding and directing you.

You can’t see it now. But it’s true. You will likely look back someday at this situation and think, “God’s hand was in this,” and “good stuff came out this super painful time.” I hope that encourages you. This doesn’t have to be fatal. God can redeem any pain for his glory. And He will, if you are faithful to go through the healing process.

I get a good laugh when I remember back to when the pastor who “resigned” me said I was too old for youth ministry. 14 years later, I’m still in Youth Ministry. Thank God I didn’t let anyone else’s word for me, define my calling.

Don’t let this define you. Get up. Brush off the dust, and keep going. You’re going to be fine. I remember an old youth pastor once told me, “you’re no one till you’ve been fired.” Welcome to the club my friend. You are not alone!

~Mark

Related post Youth Worker – You’re going to get fired someday. 

The Hardest part of Change


Change is never easy.      change

Organizationally we are in the middle of a HUGE strategic change. After 44 years as a non-profit, Youth Dynamics (YD) is reorganizing in order to maximize our Kingdom Impact. It’s been almost 2 years since we started the process, and I believe we have just passed the tipping point. Change is imminent.

Personally, after 47 years of eating pizza, I started working out for the first time since High School. I completed p90x this summer and 30 days ago just began a a new workout program called Body Beast.

With all this change happening in different areas of my life this year, I’m discovering a few things about CHANGE that I thought I should share.

1. Deciding to CHANGE was the hardest part

When I made the decision to start p90x I had gotten to the point in my life where I was completely fed up with things the way they were. I was overweight, I didn’t like how I looked, almost to the point of being disgusted with myself. With my organization, coming to the conclusion that our mission was being compromised by things staying the way they were was critical. I had to get to the point that I could not live with things remaining the same, knowing that a change would make a difference in thousands of teenagers lives. And then I had to convince my organization of the same. Organizational change is more difficult than making a personal change, but both begin with you deciding that change needs to happen.

2. Change doesn’t happen as quickly as I’d like

In my exercise programs, you only take your measurements every 30 days. I was so excited for my first measurement in p90x, I felt so strong, so healthy. I was excited to finally quantify the results. Day 30 came, we took my measurements… and to my great surprise there was not much measurable change. I was so disappointed. I was eating healthy, I had worked out 30 days straight. Where was this change I was promised? Then my 21 yr old coach said something profound to me.

“Just keep doing the work, the results will take care of themselves.”

I had to trust the process. We say it all the time in YD. Do the work. Trust the process. I couldn’t quantify the results yet, but I knew I was in the middle of a massive change. And sure enough, it wasn’t long after that the weight started peeling off. Yesterday was my 30th day of this new exercise program, Body Beast; and the same thing happened after taking my measurements. I have some tangible results, but not near what my expectations were. But after my success of completing p90x I now know this is normal and I am not nearly as disappointed. I will keep doing the work, and let the results take care of themselves.

3. For me the hardest part of change happens way before the battle even starts.

I expect change to be hard work. I expect there to be obstacles. But in my life, the battle is won at the beginning. Deciding I need to change, then determining what changes need to be made are the biggest obstacles to me making a change. But once I lock onto something, I will see it through to completion. And there will be tearing of flesh to get me to change course.

How about you? Is there a change that needs to happen in your life? What part of the process is most difficult for you?

~Mark

Read more about my change in my blogpost -“I need a new mirror – Youth Ministry made me Fat”.

The Secret to Having Discipline in your Life


Most of us hate discipline. We don’t like being told no or having to say no to things that we want. If I feel like ice cream after dinner, I want to be able to have ice cream after dinner. If I want to sleep in, I’m want to be able to sleep in.

We look at disciplined people and we think to ourselves, “It must be easier for them, they are just naturally a more disciplined person than me.”

While that’s a nice thought, it simply isn’t true. At least it’s not true in my life.

Most of my life I have not been a very disciplined person. I have always liked my freedom. I like to choose what I want when I want it. Discipline means I have to say “No” to myself. I don’t like anyone telling me no, even if its me!  But that all changed last June. I decided I was tired of being overweight. I decided I was tired of looking at my fat belly in the mirror every day. I was on a website looking at the before and after pictures of scores of people who had transformed their bodies and I decided I wanted to look like that too. I stood in the full length mirror and sucked in my belly. I decided I wanted to get rid of my gut more than anything else in my life right now. And once I decided that was what I wanted, the rest was easy.

“Discipline is choosing what you want most over what you want now.”

Pastor Craig Groschel

Discipline then came into my life, not as a hammer, forcing me to say “no” to a bunch of stuff like ice cream and sleeping in, but rather as a tool to help me say “yes” to something I wanted much more, a good looking body.

What I wanted most was to be in shape. I wanted to feel good about the way I looked. I determined that this is what I wanted most. It then became much easier to say “no” to other things. When I wanted ice cream, I would think to myself, “What I want now, is this bowl of ice cream. What I want most is to lose this belly.” And I would choose a small bowl of frozen blueberries instead.  Saying “yes” to what I wanted most, was in effect telling everything else “no.” I guess this is what Discipline is, but in my mind I wasn’t saying “no” to stuff… I was saying “yes” to a preferred future.

I am starting a new weight lifting program tomorrow. I have a vision of what I will look like 90 days from now. I am saying “yes” to that future.

So whether its saving money for college or to go on once in a lifetime trip to Disneyland with the kids. Or maybe you to want to reshape your body, or learn a new skill. Determining what it is that you want most, is the secret to having the discipline you need to get to where you want to be.

Ask yourself the question “What do I want most?”

~Mark

p.s. Now that I’ve decided what I want… I love knowing that the only thing that stands between here and my future is hard work! I know how to do that!

discipline

Leader: Are you coasting?


20140121-111353.jpg

“Mailing it in” is what we used to call it in sports. Its the term you use when you get to the place in your life where you’ve done all this before, and honestly you’re bored. You’ve stopped pushing, you’ve stopped growing, you’re leaning hard on your vast experience, and you’re not giving it your best. You’ve starting repeating old messages, not prepping like you used to. You’ve begun a new habit of leaving a little early from work, and you’ve started coming in late. You’re basically going through the motions. You’ve stopped dreaming. You’re clocking in and clocking out. What used to be a dream job, had become just a job. It’s a horrible place to be in life, but especially sinful in a ministry context. Remember what it was like to be nervous to stand in front of a group of kids and deliver a message? Remember when you led your first parents meeting and the feeling you had in the pit of your stomach that someone was gonna figure out that you didn’t know what the crap you were doing? What happened to that? You used to dream about God doing stuff, but reality has sucked the life out of you. You no longer have any dreams. You’re mailing it in.

As a veteran youth worker I’ve been there a time or two. It’s natural to get comfortable with things after you do them over and over. And it’s okay to not get as nervous as you used to. But you must fight the urge to let lethargy creep in as you gain experience. It will lull you to sleep like anesthesia. And your people will follow.

I remember when our youth ministry had grown to a place where it needed another level of leadership. I had some very talented youth workers that were trained up and ready to take over both the Middle School and High School programs. I wasn’t really ready to let go, but they were chomping at the bit, young bucks with talent, energy and passion. I knew as a leader, I needed to step aside and let them run. So I added an extra layer of leadership, and put each of them in charge of Middle School and High School respectively, and I oversaw the vision, mission, direction of the whole thing. My mistake was not holding onto any direct contact work with teenagers. I didn’t mandate that I speak every month. I started snowboarding more. I let the youth workers dream about the youth ministry, and I started dreaming about fresh powder. My create energy and passion migrated to this new area, while my heart for youth ministry languished. I got bored with my job. Something else had captured my heart. Here I was at a megachurch, one of the most influential churches in the Northwest, and I was bored.

By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late. I had given the keys to the car away to the new youth guys, and there was no taking them back. And after several conversations with my boss and Sr. Pastor, who were both close friends of mine, with tears in our eyes, we realized that I needed to move on. I resigned, and started the process of dreaming again. I left the comfort of the big church with the nice salary and good benefits and started over.

It was terrifying. I had to ask the question, “What would I want to do if I could do anything?” I had to reengage my heart and connect it to my mission again. While it was scary and uncertain, it was exhilarating at the same time. We are not designed to mail it in. We are designed for greatness, to achieve more than what we thought we could. We were created to chase dreams, God’s dreams, to grow and develop, to do hard things.

If your heart has become disconnected from your job, you owe it to God, to your people, to your family… Most of all you owe it to yourself, to re-engage. Start the process today.

Your life depends on it. You were not created to mail in a mediocre existence.
You were designed to dream God dreams. Get to it.
-M

 

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason


Our house burned down in August 2006

I hear it all the time. “Everything happens for a reason.” Both churched and unchurched people alike seem to believe this similarly.

The problem is I don’t believe it.

Not the way that people mean it anyway. When people say: “Everything happens for a reason,” it implies that good is always the end result of our pain. It suggests that everything is connected in some type of butterfly effect and that Someone is orchestrating and controlling it all behind the scenes.

That is untrue. And it’s unBiblical.

If God is in control of everything, then what do you do with starvation, genocide, the Holocaust, rape, sexual abuse, AIDS, cancer, the Sandy Hook shootings, tornadoes…

If God is in control, and this world, with all its pain and suffering, is the result of His being in charge, then I’m out. No thank you. This is not a God that I want any part of. And He is not the loving God I imagine Him to be.

How can God be in control of the entire world when He’s not even in control of me?

We have this ongoing discussion in our home group regarding “the will of God.” Does God control everything? Does He cause pain or allow it? Is there a difference? Is everything that happens to us both good and bad, part of God’s blueprint for our lives? Is it all part of His plan? Or on the other hand, is this life a battlefield, a war zone, in which our Enemy “prowls around, seeking whom He may devour,” thus bringing pain and death into our lives? Good arguments can be made for both.

Sometimes, pain is a part of God’s blueprint for our lives.

The story of Joseph, for instance, is a good example of that. His brother’s sold him as a slave. He was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison for many years. Then through a series of events he is elevated to the #2 position in Egypt, and administrates a plan that saves the entire region from starvation, including his own brothers and father. Sometimes our pain is part of  God’s bigger plan. At the end of the story Joseph makes sense of all his suffering when his brothers discover who Joseph has become and are afraid for their lives. They beg his forgiveness and Joseph makes this unbelievable statement to them.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” 

Genesis 50:20

There is no question that there are examples in Scripture where pain is part of God’s plan. Does that bring you comfort? It should. Sometimes He is accomplishing His purposes through you and your pain.

Sometimes though, pain is the result of our own stupid decisions.

Let’s say you go out and get drunk tonight, and crash your car on the way home. Some will say well, “Everything happens for a reason.” Yes. And the reason is that you were stupid. Sometimes the pain in our lives is a clear result of our own poor choices. Please don’t blame that on God. Or  think it happened because it’s all part of some unseen plan. It’s you, it’s you, it’s you. Take responsibility for your choices and your actions.

Sometimes pain is the result of other people’s stupid decisions.

Let’s say that a drunk driver runs into you? What did you do to deserve that? You were doing everything right, and someone else’s poor choices brought pain into your world. Was this part of God’s plan, His design for your life? I don’t think that’s always the case. Much of the pain in today’s world is because other people have chosen to sin, thereby inflicting pain on others. Child abuse, rape, murder all are a direct result of one person choosing to sin, choosing to operate outside of God’s laws, thereby inflicting pain on others. War, disease, famine, genocide, and the like, often can be attributed to corporate sin by groups of people; countries, governments; generations of sinning that brings macro-level pain into our world today.

BUT, sometimes pain IS part of Satan’s plan for our destruction.

I don’t like to over-spiritualize everything, but there is NO QUESTION that as Christ followers that we have an enemy. He hates us because He hates everything that God loves. He thinks by hurting us, he can hurt God.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

 I Peter 5:8

You have an enemy, and your enemy hates you, and has a plan for your destruction.

And in John:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” 

John 10:10

As a youth worker, I’ve done several funerals of teenagers over the years. When I’m standing in front of a thousand people in pain, they are hoping I can bring some sort of understanding to the pain in their souls. Often times this is the verse I turn quote to help people process. John says here that Jesus is the giver of life, and it’s the thief Satan, who is the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. This is exactly what I feel when a child dies… that something, someone has been stolen from us.

So, pain can be God’s fault, our fault, someone else’s fault or Satan’s fault. It’s dangerous to say it’s always God’s plan or that it’s always Satan’s fault. And it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

One last word of advice. People’s theology around this has been forged through the furnace of their personal pain. Be extremely careful when you talk to people about their pain. Our house burned to the ground in 2006. It was amazing to me how many people felt compelled to help bring meaning to my pain. They tended to land in one of two cosmic camps: either it was God’s fault or it was Satan’s fault. Actually, it wasn’t either. It was my fault. My mistake caused the fire. And in that painful rubble of that situation, as in any painful situation, God wants to use it to bless me, and conversely Satan wants to use it for my destruction. My response, is the single greatest contributing factor that determines the outcome. 

People  really did have good intentions of helping to bring meaning to my pain, but all their pithy Christian sayings did was really bring me more pain. What I really needed was for them to be silent, and to walk with me in my pain. This is now my goal when I enter someone else’s pain, not to help them understand why, but simply to be present with them in their pain.  This is enough.

Some of you are thinking of a verse right now about how everything is going to work together for good. There’s a silver lining in every cloud right? Wrong.

God DOESN’T promise that everything will work out in the end.  Unless you are a lover of God.

Romans 8:28 does say that “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

Is that everyone? All people? All pain? Every tragedy and bad situation?

No. Not everyone loves God. For those that do not love God, He makes no promise that there is purpose behind their pain. Without Christ, tragedy really is tragic.

The good news here is that God can redeem our pain no matter what the source and whether you are a Christ-follower or not right now. When bad things happen in our lives, we determine whether it destroys us or makes us stronger. God wants to help us process our pain and can bring good out of the absolute worst situations. If you are going through something right now, take heart. Have courage. Stick it to the Devil who wants to use this to destroy you. This thing does not have to define you. Take one day at a time, one moment at a time, and allow Christ to walk with you in your pain, to the other side, where there is healing and wholeness. He will redeem your pain, and use it for good, perhaps not just for you, but for helping others who will walk a similar journey in their future. 

So in the end, the reason everything happens is not the important thing; how we choose to respond to it, is.

Stay in the journey my friend.

~Mark

If you like to read more about our house fire read my blogpost:  My House Burned Down Last Week

%d bloggers like this: