Advent is About Waiting

During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.

Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.

Are you a Preacher Who Pastors or a Pastor who Preaches.

One of the temptations in ministry but particularly in youth ministry is to be a preacher who pastors. Pastoral ministry is tough there is no way around it, it just is. Preaching is generally immediately rewarding with people telling you that you did a great job or how what you said impacted them positively. Pastoring generally results in very few positive short-term results. Pastoring people is getting down into the middle messes and walking people through dark valleys. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t get lots of likes on Instagram.  Pastoring is the necessary hard spirit transforming work of leading your people to a long obedience in the same direction.

The problem is that we like instant feedback we like being told of our impact, so the temptation is for us to become preachers who pastor on the side. If we only ever look at pastoring as the necessary evil that allows us to preach, we have missed what it means to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. When youth Pastors see what they do as a means to get more people there to heart them preach they have missed the point and have failed to have a broader understanding of what Pastoral Care looks like in the Bible.

We need to change our paradigm of discipleship. Preaching is a powerful means of discipleship, but if those we are training and leading only see us on stage they will fail to understand how that message is formed in years of pain and tears and think that standing on the stage in front of kids as what the Greeks called “Summum bonum” the highest good. Jesus confronted this in his disciples through his radical call to authentic discipleship. Do you want to be great? Yes? Be the least. (Matthew 20) Do you want to follow me? You can’t if you love anything. Anything. Including the good things, he gives us more than God himself (Luke 14). Jesus modeled a life a self-sacrificial love showing us what the highest good actually is.

One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to find value in the wrong things. To find our identity in what we do rather than whose we are. Not in the fact we can preach really well or if we can gather a crowd or if our Instagram photo of us preaching gets enough likes, or by getting good feedback on our facebook page after we preach. Our job is not to preach a tweetable message but to proclaim the fullness of God’s word to a generation who doesn’t want to hear the gospel.

What I have found in over twenty years of ministry in the same church is that even my best sermons are forgettable, but the moments I loved those who are the least of these those moments were never forgotten. Pastoring is showing up to pray for an 8-year-old boy in the hospital about to get his tonsils taken out and is scared. It’s walking into the room where a family is gathered because their dad just when home to Glory. It’s sitting in a living room telling a family that even though their dad left them that Jesus isn’t like that. Those moments are when you better be ready to know when to speak the hope the gospel provides and when to be quiet and weep with those who weep. It is in those moments of pastoral care that your life connects the dots preaching creates. Young pastor be a pastor who preaches not a preacher who pastors.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Events in the News

Parent Advice from Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers

I didn’t have a TV growing up but when I would go visit my Grandma and Grandpa for the summers as a kid I would always watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He was riveting to 6-year-old TV-less me. Now that I am older and have worked with kids for over 20 years I know why. He understood childlikeness. He understood the hopes and fears of kids and he understood how we in many ways never grow past those hopes and fears we just learn how to ignore or indulge them. We have lost the art of civility in our country and have lost our ability and capacity for wonder. It is something that as a nation we need to fight for. We need to face our fears and regain the hope that cynicism has destroyed.

Our kids are growing up seeing more painful things on TV and social media than many in previous generations never experienced in a lifetime. How as parents do we shield our kids without being overprotective? How do we talk to them about the scary things they have seen or experienced? 

Mr. Rogers gives us the following advice that is so typically Rogers: that is both pithy and profound.

  1. Ask your kids how much they know about the situation they are asking about. We find that their fantasies are very different from the actual truth. (Address their fears and give them hope.)
  2. What children need to hear most is that they can talk to us about anything. (We need to listen more than give quick answers or false assurances.)
  3. We will do all that we can to keep them safe in any scary time.

Kids need our presence and our promise to do all we can to protect them more than the need perfect answers to impossible questions. Don’t avoid hard conversations or difficult questions show up and give kids your full attention and then assure them that you will protect them as much as you can in every situation and God will be with them in every situation and perfectly protect them. Kids like us need assurance far more than they need pat answers.

 

 

Build Something Worth Building

Are you building something that has worth?

Building something of worth doesn’t happen just because you work at a church or volunteer at one. Building something of worth isn’t taking some good idea you hear at a conference and force it on your church with the ferocity of a hostage negotiator. Many Churches struggle with what it means to build something of worth. One of the reasons for this struggle is many churches have a warped view of worth. Often we equate success with worth. Often having the right people think highly of us equals worth. At times we actually think that becoming famous builds the kingdom of God when the weight of scripture goes out of its way to communicate that our job is not vine building and fruit-bearing but just being a stick that derives it’s life and produces fruit because of the vine it’s connected to. We need to understand what Jesus considers valuable.

When I am weak then I am strong –

2 Corinthians 12:8-10
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

To build something of worth, weakness is the way. The older I get the more I realize that what I thought was valuable 20 years ago is worthless. The more I know Christ the more I understand the gospel. The more I realize that Christ is my treasure. He is infinitely more valuable to me than anything. When I understand that I am free to not have to be the man I can make mistakes I can love those who take advantage of me, I can build in a way that checks my ego at the door because It’s not about me being remembered it’s about Christ getting all the glory. Being in the same church for over 17 years I have come to the understanding that if I left not long after I left I would be forgotten.  When we build our own kingdom we waste our strength building what we could never sustain. When we spend our lives glorifying God we pass to the young leaders God has entrusted to us to lead a rich heritage of faith that will outlive us.

Be a good branch –

John 15:1-5 
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

There is a misguided and if we are honest an exhausting truth that the bigger deal we become the broader our ability to make Jesus more famous. Are we supposed to work hard? Yes. But what we don’t get to do is determine what we want the outcomes to be. We are called to abide to be hidden with Christ. It’s very easy for us to get distracted by the promise of deeper truth or the desire to become Christian famous when all we are called to do is abide. Abide. Our ability to build something that produces fruit is not in how much how hard or how deeply we are connected to the vine but simply that we are connected. If you want to build something of worth and you should. Abide in Christ. What does it mean to abide? Trust Him. Talk to Him. Think about Him. Place your hopes and dreams in His infinite hands. Abide.

You don’t need another good idea –

Ephesians 3:7-9

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Everyone likes a good idea. In fact, I think many of us are addicted to them. I know I am. When I get in trouble or something isn’t going right, attendance is below last year, giving is down. What do I do? Do I ask God for help? No, I go into my thought palace and try to find a good idea to help me out of the hole that I have most often dug for myself. Why do I try and come up with a good idea? Because many times a good idea works for a while. Until it doesn’t then we look for another good idea. We become good idea junkies. We go to conferences to get the next good idea to keep our church or our ministry going. What we fail to realize is good ideas are a by-product, not a source. Good ideas come for principle-based, gospel-centered, Christ exhausting ministries who exist to Glorify God for who he is not just for what he can do for them. Our ability to minister in whatever capacity we find ourselves in a work of grace. Recognize you are a great sinner, preach the riches of Christ because of the miracle of grace by which you have been saved. Do that and no matter what happens in your life you will build something bigger than you. You will build something that will outlast you…..something of worth.

Weakness produces humility, abiding produces dependence and principles sustain.

How do you want to build something of worth?

1. Make sure your life is hidden in Christ. (Col. 3:3)
2. Remember your weakness is a showcase for His glory
3. It’s our connectedness that makes us fruitful
4. Be principally based not idea driven
5. Make sure that you never forget that you are a great sinner who has a great Saviour.

Do those things and your impact may never be felt on twitter but it most definitely will be felt in eternity.

What’s Durable Trumps What’s Visible.

Louie Giglio's challenge to young leaders

I came across this Instagram post on Louie Giglio’s Instagram account. In his Instagram post, Louie challenges young leaders to go deeper. His challenge is challenging for young leaders and old leaders alike. I love that Louie does a college conference and gets the best youth speakers out there but always has John Piper speak. He wants new voices but recognizes kids need tried and true voices as well. I love that Louie is challenging young people to look past the glitter of youth to what matters most. That he pushes people to think deeply about their faith and to focus on what matters most.

We live in a superficial age where followers matter more than following where sermons are more about tweetablity than biblical reliability where being liked, friended, and followed seem to be an end in themselves. I am grateful for seasoned leaders who push young people to find fruitfulness in the faithfulness. Here are Louie’s thoughts to which I can only add “Amen.”

Hello young leaders. What’s durable trumps what’s visible. So often we are tempted to go for what looks good over what is good. Conditioned by an instant culture, the approval of others and a climate of comparison, we can lose ourselves in the quest to be seen, when the goal is to be steady. Don’t get in too big a rush to tell the world what you know. Get to know the One who is unseen and walk with Him as if you really believe He is the best treasure of all. Work diligently toward the mission He calls you to, embracing the reality that what you do in secret will be rewarded in the open. Go from acceptance, not for acceptance. From approval, not for it. You’ll never lose by digging deep, staying true, not giving up, building character in the crucible of challenge, breathing in, hanging on and becoming more weighty below the surface than you are impressive above it. Stop waiting for the world to applaud your branches and keep asking your Father to fortify your roots. Time proves character, reveals motives and confirms calling. Faithfulness always wins in the end. – Louie Giglio